Jean-Claude Juncker’s invitation to a handful of EU leaders for an informal mini-summit on Sunday (27 June) to discuss migration and asylum appears to have raised more issues than the meeting can solve.
Commission President Juncker announced plans for an ‘informal working meeting’ in a tweet on 20 June, copying the parties invited, and inviting the Prime Ministers of Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Austria, Germany, France and Bulgaria. The aim of the gathering, Juncker said, is to work towards agreeing common EU solutions on migration and asylum at an EU summit on the 28-29 June.
J'invite à une réunion de travail informelle sur les sujets des migrations et de l'asile un groupe d'Etats membres intéressés. Le but de la réunion, qui aura lieu ce dimanche à Bruxelles, est de travailler à des solutions européennes en vue du #EUCO. #MigrationEU pic.twitter.com/2tim8EbUXX
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) June 20, 2018
The Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat tweeted that he had accepted the invitation.
I have accepted @JunckerEU invitation for an informal meeting on #migration ahead of #EUCO. #Malta was and will remain consistent with its principles, and looks forward to contribute to the debate and action on a coordinated European response -JM #MigrationEU
— Joseph Muscat (@JosephMuscat_JM) June 20, 2018
Bulgaria is the current holder of the Presidency of the Council of the EU, and Austria is taking over from 1 July. Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain are seen as “front-line countries”, as they are exposed more than others to the arrival of migrants via the Mediterranean, and are anxious to broker a deal that will ease their burden.
So, too, is Germany’s Angela Merkel, whose conservative Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU) agreed to give her two weeks’ breathing space to find a pan-EU solution on migration, following a row over immigration that threatens to scupper her three-month-old coalition government.
French President Emmanuel Macron also wants a swift deal on migration, which would allow leaders to focus on reforms to the Eurozone.
But tensions have been growing on migration issues between France and Italy, especially under its new government, in which the leader of the far right Lega Nord party Matteo Salvini holds the post of deputy Prime Minister and minister of the Interior.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said yesterday (21 June) that a draft EU accord on migration had been withdrawn after he clashed with Merkel.
The withdrawn declaration contained key elements Merkel needs to placate the CSU and its head, Horst Seehofer, who is also her interior minister. But Rome objected to provisions that asylum seekers would have to be returned to the EU country they had first logged their claim in, which often means Italy.
Italy has taken in some 650,000 boat migrants over the past five years, stoking anti-immigration sentiment and fueling the rise of the far-right League, which formed a coalition government this month.
Conte, who had threatened not to go to Brussels on Sunday unless the draft was amended, spoke to Merkel yesterday.
“The chancellor clarified that there had been a ‘misunderstanding’. The draft text released yesterday will be shelved,” Conte wrote on Facebook, adding that he would now attend the meeting.
In another example of Italy’s new populist government adopting a harsher line on migration, Rome on Thursday refused to accept a rescue ship carrying 226 people picked up at sea, telling it to go to the Netherlands instead.
EU states have been at loggerheads over migration since arrivals spiked in 2015, when more than one million migrants reached its shores across the Mediterranean. There have been 41,000 sea arrivals so far this year, data shows.
Meanwhile, EU states to the east continue to refuse to take migrants in. Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán hosted a meeting of the “Visegrad Four” former Communist countries on Thursday with the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The four confirmed they would not attend the Sunday talks.
#V4 leaders and @sebastiankurz agreed on the importance of external border protection, #Orban announced that the #Visegrad countries won't join the #migration minisummit on Sunday. https://t.co/vXgZl5PvTl
— Hungary Journal (@hungary_journal) June 21, 2018
“We understand there are domestic political difficulties in some countries but that cannot lead to pan-European haste,” Orbán said.
“We understand that there will … be a mini-summit on Sunday but we would like to state clearly that the prime ministers of V4 agreed that they will not go to that.”
Actually, the Visegrad countries have not been invited. Yesterday the Commission was unable to say who is invited to the meeting, who has confirmed attendance, and if EU countries not invited could participate.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the four states spoke “with one voice” on the migrant issue. “Let’s just say we don’t belong to this migrant-loving group of friends, and neither do we want to partake,” he said.
The four were joined at the summit by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has added his voice to calls for a tougher migration policy.
“We have to have a Europe capable of defending us,” Kurz said after the meeting.
“We have to strengthen (border agency) Frontex, to protect our external border and ensure internal freedom.”
The Visegrad states have, like Kurz, traditionally taken a hardline stance on migration, rejecting any suggestion of mandatory refugee resettlement among EU members.
‘True’ border police
Draft EU summit conclusions on the issue include proposals for more border security, including identity checks at airports, railway and road stations.
The EU border agency Frontex would also be revolutionised into a “true EU border police” with the number of officers increasing to 10,000 officers by 2020, a move Italy has been pushing for.
Meanwhile, asylum seekers already present in the EU would be “fined” if they do not stay in the country where they were registered.
The EU is also considering setting up “disembarkation platforms” outside the bloc to process migrants, according to the draft communique.