As EU leaders gathered on 19 September in Salzburg (Austria) for an informal meeting, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz and European Council President Donald Tusk called for an EU-Arab States summit on migration next February and a Brexit summit in November.
“Tonight I will ask for support for our efforts to intensify cooperation with North African countries and the idea of calling an EU-League of Arab States summit in Egypt in February next year,” said Donald Tusk in Salzburg.
Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is hosting the event as the country is holding the EU’s current presidency, while President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, is chairing the meeting. He is representing the EU together with the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.
At a press briefing, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that extending Frontex’s mandate was key to finding a solution to the migration crisis.
“This is to be done together with transit countries. In that respect, it is important to talk to North African countries and Egypt”, he said.
Both Sebastian Kurz and Donald Tusk were careful to stress that the number of refugees and migrants has dropped drastically in the past months.
“In Italy, the number of migrants fell by 80% compared to last year,” Sebastian Kurz said, underlining that the number of person drowning in the Mediterranean sea also fell significantly.
“The direction we set last June is the right one. We now have to be consequent and implement it,” Austria’s Chancellor insisted.
Donald Tusk said he will call on leaders to stop what he termed the migration blame game.
“Despite the aggressive rhetoric, things are moving in the right direction, mostly because we have been focused on external border control and cooperation with third countries, which have brought down the number of irregular migrants from almost 2 millions in 2015 to fewer than 100 000 this year,” he said.
Talking to reporters on the side of the summit, S&D leader Udo Bullmann struck a different tone, insisting that the Salzburg summit is not business as usual.
“Too much is at stake and we expect the Austrian Presidency to actively promote a humanitarian refugee policy,” he said, underlining that Europe’s answer can only be solidarity, not building a fortress Europe,” he said.
Less time for Brexit
An additional summit in mid-November to accelerate an agreement with the UK on Brexit is getting more and more likely as both Donald Tusk and Sebastian Kurz said they will be promoting the idea during the informal summit.
Both leaders stressed the urgency of finding a solution, particularly on the question of the Irish border.
“This is definitely a major point that needs to be discussed in Salzburg,” said Kurz.
As Donald Tusk welcomed what he called UK’s readiness to cooperate closely in the area of security and foreign policy, he also said that the UK proposals on the Irish border will need to be reworked and further negotiated.
“Today, there is perhaps more hope, but there is surely less and less time,” he said.
Answering a British reporter critical of the EU-27’s position, Austria’s Chancellor said that a hard Brexit would be a lose-lose situation for both the UK and the European Union.
“No deal or a hard Brexit would be difficult for the EU, terrible for the UK,” he stressed.
EPP summit without Merkel
The same day, the EPP also held its summit but without Germany’s Angela Merkel: she was visiting car maker Daimler in Southern Germany and held a speech for the opening of a new Test-Center. According to her press office, this was a long scheduled appointment.
However, the CDU leader is currently facing fierce criticism from her SPD coalition partners after Germany’s controversial head of Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) — the domestic intelligence service – Hans-Georg Maaßen was appointed State Secretary of the equally controversial Interior minister Horst Seehofer, who makes no secret of his close ties to Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.