Monday

18th Mar 2019

EU buries migration dispute for now

  • Migrants sent back from the Greek island of Lesbos. An EU official said the measure of success will be the rate of returns. (Photo: Reuters)

With the number of migrants entering Europe relatively under control and no real decision to be taken, EU officials and diplomats say this week's European Council summit "will not be a migration crisis summit". But divergences will be brewing around the table.

"We are slowly turning the corner," European Council president Donald Tusk said in his invitation letter to the summit.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

He pointed out that migrant arrivals in Greece were down 98 percent in September compared with last year, that they were at the same level on the central Mediterranean route as the two previous years, and that twice as many irregular migrants have been returned so far this year as in 2015.

Discussions on the issue are now "less confrontational" than a few months ago, a diplomat said, because the situation is less pressing and all leaders agree that it is urgent to implement decisions already taken.

But that does not mean that differences have disappeared, and the summit could prefigure difficult discussions ahead.

"Very clearly, last year’s package doesn’t work," another diplomat said, adding than EU leaders had "a frank discussion" when 27 of them met in Bratislava in September.

"Many member states had a strong position and agreed that it would be better to have more flexible solutions," the diplomat said.

At the summit on Thursday, leaders will focus on border controls, a few days after the EU border and coast guard became operational.

They will call for "a swift adoption" of a revision of the Schengen borders code to enforce systematic controls, and will ask the European Commission to come up with a proposal on an entry/exit system before the end of the year, according to draft conclusions seen by EUobserver.

Absolute necessity

"Border control remains an absolute necessity. We'll return to a normal situation only if we restore full control of the external border," the first diplomat said.

Leaders will also discuss the so-called compacts set up with five African countries - Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Ethiopia - to manage the flows of migrants, increase returns and try to solve the "root causes" of migration.

The commission presented a first assessment on Tuesday but leaders will wait until December to decide if the plan works and whether to extend it to other countries.

"Most of member states will expect results in December," a top EU official said, adding that "at the end of the day, the measure of success will be the rate of returns" of migrants to their country of origin.

Some EU countries would already like to include new countries in the plan, like Egypt, Afghanistan or Pakistan. But the commission and other member states are more wary.

In their conclusions, leaders will call for "work to be continued" on the reform of the EU asylum system, the Dublin system, before they take a decision in December.

They will say that the reform will have to "apply the principles of responsibility and solidarity in the future", the code words that refer to the most acute controversy, over the relocation of asylum seekers to member states.

After several member states, notably Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, rejected a temporary relocation mechanism for 160,000 people last year, the commission proposed in April a permanent and mandatory system, with fines for recalcitrant countries.

Flexible solidarity

Faced with the failure of the temporary plan - about 4,500 people have been relocated in the first year - and more opposition, the commission's president Jean-Claude Juncker admitted in September that "solidarity cannot be forced".

But tensions continue to run high between leaders. While Hungary's Viktor Orban organised a referendum against the idea of relocation, Italy's Matteo Renzi said this week that the EU should open infraction procedures against countries that refuse to take migrants.

"We have solidarity, but we want to want to choose the way to do it," a diplomat from a reluctant country said. "We need reform on migration, but we don’t need reforms that don’t work."

The EU calendar put the asylum reform in the hands of Slovakia, one of the most critical countries, which holds the six-month rotating presidency.

Bratislava is expected to bring ideas forward soon, that will try to square the circle between the permanent and the voluntary aspects of solidarity.

The concept of "flexible solidarity" that Slovakia put forward in September with its partners from the Visegrad group – Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic – could then be on the table, helping to revive their disagreements with the countries that have to deal with thousands of refugees.

EU seeks migration deal with African states

Focus on migration is shifting towards stopping flows from Africa with plans to cut deals with handful of origin countries before the end of the year.

Opinion

How to monitor the EU's new border security strategy

EU compliance with adequate human rights standards, the principle of non-refoulement and fair access to asylum procedures needs to be reviewed through new guidelines and mechanisms.

EU migrants sneaking into US from Mexico

Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

News in Brief

  1. Third Brexit vote this week only if DUP will support it
  2. Germany's two largest banks confirm merger talks
  3. Serbian pro-democracy protests reach 15th week
  4. 'Yellow Vest' riots leave Paris shops vandalised
  5. European woman older when having first baby
  6. Majority of Germans want Merkel to stay on
  7. Asylum applications in the EU down to 580,800 in 2018
  8. Children's climate school strikes turn global on Friday

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  2. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  5. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us