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24th Feb 2020

Tusk: EU migrant quotas have 'no future'

  • Tusk said he "sympathised" with Poland, but warned of "consequences". (Photo: Consilium)

EU Council head Donald Tusk has said obligatory migrant quotas "have no future" amid efforts to mend fences with eastern European states.

"I don't see any special future for this project, but it's important to find an understanding that does not separate Poland and other Visegrad group countries from the rest of Europe," Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, told the Polish press agency, Pap, in the margins of a meeting on social affairs in Brussels on Wednesday (18 October).

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  • Juncker met with Visegrad leaders for a goodwill dinner on Wednesday. (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

"This completely unnecessary conflict between member states must end," he added.

The Visegrad group - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland - have refused to take in asylum seekers from Greece and Italy despite an EU vote do so.

The quota scheme formally ended in September, but some countries have continued to take people, with 234 mostly Syrian refugees flying from Athens to Lyon, France, on Wednesday.

EU leaders will discuss reform of the bloc's asylum laws at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

The current regime puts the whole burden of the migration crisis on frontline states, amid talk of potential cuts in EU funding and the prospect of European Commission fines against countries that refuse to show solidarity.

Tusk said Poland had to decide whether to "jointly solve the problems related to migration, which means securing borders, but also helping those countries who have too many refugees" or to opt for a "firm break from European solidarity".

He said he sympathised with some of Poland's "arguments", but he added that there would be "certain consequences" if they continued to violate EU decisions.

"Those are the rules in Europe," he said.

Poland's EU affairs minister, Konrad Szymanski, seized on Tusk's words on Wednesday evening, saying the migrant quotas "were never alive in the first place".

"The system of relocating refugees has not helped anyone, not a single group of refugees, nor any of those countries who still face an unequal burden today," he said.

Juncker dinner

Szymanski spoke after a dinner held by Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker with the Visegrad leaders in Brussels the same day.

He said Szydlo had listed a series of concerns that included migration, energy security, and French proposals to limit the freedom of eastern European workers to earn a living in richer EU states.

He said the Commission had "full support from Poland" in its bid to negotiate the terms of a future Russian-German gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2.

He also said Juncker's mini-summit "opened the path to exit from the many political and economic tensions between the countries from our part of Europe and other parts of the EU".

There was no press conference after the dinner, but Juncker tweeted that there was: "On the menu: consensus through #compromise and #cooperation. #unity".

Radovan Javorcik, the Slovak ambassador to the EU, said the meeting also discussed future EU budget allocations for eastern Europe and complaints that counties such as Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden planned to prolong identity checks on internal EU borders.

"It is better sometimes to clarify some things in smaller formats, and then it can be translated into a more concrete discussion within the European Council," he said.

Ales Chmelar, the Czech secretary of state, said the EU needed to "communicate more in some things" and that Juncker would hold more such events in future.

Africa, Brexit

Speaking at a press conference following the social affairs meting on Wednesday, Tusk also praised Italy for having reduced the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya.

He said EU leaders should agree to pour more money into an Africa fund that tied aid to reducing the number of people coming to Europe.

"The Commission should make sure the money is well targeted to stemming irregular migration," he said.

Thursday's summit will also tackle Brexit talks.

Tusk said he would propose to EU leaders that they started "preparatory work" for talks with the UK on its post-Brexit transition deal and on future EU trade relations.

But he said the UK had not been detailed enough in its proposals on citizens' rights, the Irish border, and on its EU exit bill to start phase two of the negotiations right away.

"There is clearly not the sufficient progress we had hoped for," he said.

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