EU Summit overshadowed by row over migrant quotas


EU Summit

by Aggelos Skordas

End-of-year, two-day European Council summit held in Brussels confirmed the division between the member states regarding the migration issue. What was triggered by European Council President Donald Tusk’s recent suggestion to scrap mandatory quotas on relocating asylum seekers seems now to have deeper roots as European nations appear divided in Eastern and Western. The first fully subscribe to Tusk’s proposal and the second label it as “anti-Europan”, while Greece and Italy, being the first reception countries, are caught in the middle of the row.

Tusk’s country Poland along with Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic -the so-called Visegrad four- stood firm behind the rejection of the migrants’ redistribution, seen as an assisting measure towards Greece and Italy, while Germany, France, Austria and the Netherlands led the charge in favour of the quotas agreement. The Visegard four, instead, announced their commitment to spend some 35 million euros for the protection of Italy’s sea borders with Libya, the shores of which are the starting point of many migrants’ travel to Europe.

"We still have a lot of work to do. The points of view did not change. But there is a clear task to continue working until June next year", German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, told the press exiting the meeting signaling that no common place was found between the European Union leaders. June 2018 is expected to see yet another increase in migration flows in the Mediterranean as weather conditions improve. She also characterised as “unacceptable” the selective solidarity shown by member states on certain issues, with French President Emmanuel Macron adding that solidarity must also be “demonstrated within the European Union and not only towards countries outside the Union”. Macron underlined that the talks on migration will continue with the prospect of reaching an agreement by June 2018. “The European Union is not only an ATM when you need support. Cooperation means solidarity and responsibility”, Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, said clearly criticising the countries of the East for their stance towards the European Union and the responsibilities that come along with the rights of a member state. On his behalf, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said the problem is not relocation quotas, but the essence of relocations.

“Mandatory quotas remain a contentious issue, although its temperature has decreased significantly. If only for this reason, it was worth raising this topic. Will a compromise be possible? It appears very hard. But we have to try our very best. We will assess progress in this respect in March, while the leaders want to make decisions in June. As you remember, my assessment of mandatory quotas is something that created much emotion. Yesterday we heard opinions about their effectiveness – or the lack of effectiveness. There was appreciation for the efforts of the countries that have accepted refugees. At the same time, there was agreement that relocation is not a solution to the issue of illegal migration”, Tusk’s press release reads following the European Union Council meeting.

Tsipras: Tusk’s suggestion a bomb at the foundations of the EU

“The failure to respect the principle of solidarity undermines the future of Europe”, Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, said at a press conference after the summit, underlining that interventions such as Tusk’s are a straightforward challenge to the ideals of a united Europe itself. He once more described the European Council President’s intervention as “unsubstantiated and unacceptable”, especially in regard to such a crucial issue. “The debate on migratory flows was more intense due to Tusk’s misguided intervention. I underlined that the way in which Mr. Tusk tried to put the issue was unacceptable”, he said while presenting the Greek position. “Greece has respected the rules”, he underlined, explaining that the country negotiated on the basis of the rules: “When sanctions were imposed on Russia [due to the crisis in Ukraine], Greece did not think it was negatively affected, like some countries do due to the migration issue. We cannot allow some parties today -on the grounds that the refugee crisis does not affect them, does have no impact on them- to impose a change in the way of thinking, debating and decision making that has been established in the European Union for a long time and which is also one of its founding principles. This is a bomb at the foundations of the European Union’s function. We need to make it clear, at some point, that there cannot be an à la carte Europe. Some cannot believe they only have rights without obligations. Despite our clear disagreement with the austerity police, we keep European rules in the economy, all member states must show the same respect for dealing with a major European issue.”

GCT Team

This article was researched and written by a GCT team member.