Tuesday

22nd Jan 2019

EU's east-west migrant rift abates

  • Bratislava: Says prefers Christian refugees, while taking EU to court on relocations (Photo: Miroslav Petrasko)

The EU summit on Thursday (15 October) should demonstrate a simmering down of tempers between some Central European countries and their EU partners, weeks after a divisive debate over the relocation of refugees.

Three countries from the Visegrad group, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech republic, opposed EU Commission plans to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers in member states. The group's fourth country, Poland, only opposed the plan for a while.

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After leaders and media from western and eastern Europe exchanged accusations of egotism regarding open-door policies and closed borders, the issue was settled at an interior ministers' meeting with an unusual vote to impose on the three reluctant countries the decision to relocate refugees according to national quotas - Romania eventually joined them to vote against the plan.

"The atmosphere is definitively better. The summit will confirm that," a diplomat from one of the countries told EUobserver.

Hungary and the Czech republic said they would respect the decision on relocation, but did not say when. Slovakia said it would challenge the decision at the European Court of Justice.

'Let emotions calm down'

None of these countries will put the issue on the table for now.

"There is no desire to reopen the discussion on that," the diplomat said. "It is important to let emotions calm down and focus on issues to tackle".

"We are in a phase of restoring unity. We could have expected these countries to raise the issue at every opportunity, but they don't," said a top diplomat from a country supporting refugee quotas.

"At the ministers' meeting in Luxembourg last week, the ambiance and the discussion were constructive and with no acrimony."

The cooling down of tempers is helped by the fact that the day after the divisive vote at the ministers' meeting, EU leaders met for an extraordinary summit on 22 September and focused on issues the three countries had been emphasising, such as the control of EU external borders and the root causes of the refugee influx to Europe.

There was some irony in the fact that after outvoting the three countries, their EU partners put on the agenda the very issues they had been pushing for while being criticized for opposing the quotas, another source told EUobserver.

Irony

"We appreciate the leadership of [EU Council president] Donald Tusk who turned the discussion to root causes and border controls," the first diplomat said.

But "even if we understand that the first question was about what to do with the people already in Europe, we lost time," the diplomat added.

"Now the solidarity issue is not about relocation but financial support" to Frontex, the EU border agency, and to neighbouring countries hosting hundreds of thousands of migrants, the source said.

On Wednesday, EU Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said that member states "should deliver", adding that "the Commission is worried about the gap between what was agreed in September and what has been put on the table until now”.

The Visegrad countries, whose leaders will meet before Thursday's summit, are expected to announce contributions in funds and experts.

But another discussion looms, that could once again bring to the fore differences in opinion over the sharing of migrants.

"The hot issue remains the Dublin system," said a source from another country.

"We see that Dublin doesn't work, but saying there is nothing and that we should start looking for alternatives would create a legal vacuum. This is what we should avoid, because we would then confirm peoples' opinion that we have no idea of what to do," the diplomat remarked.

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