EU summit ‘to close the windows’ to immigrants

Migrant rights march, Turin. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

A large part of the two-day EU summit beginning Thursday (25 June) will be dedicated to immigration, with leaders deciding measures for the return of migrants to their countries of origin.

Although the summit was initially intended to focus on defence issues, its main course instead will be immigration. “The European Council meeting will focus on migration issues. Leaders are expected to discuss relocation, resettlement and return policy,” says the Council website.

The summit will begin at 16:00 hours Brussels time. “Most of the afternoon and the evening should be dedicated to the question of migration,” said a high-ranking EU official.

“More and more, when we talk to the member states, there’s more and more focus on the need to strengthen return policy, readmission policy, reintegration policy in the countries of origin,” he said.

“We need (a) Europe which is more active not in opening the door wider, but in helping us close the windows,” the official added.

The EU is proposing readmission agreements to countries in its neighbourhood. Those countries commit to take back economic migrants who came to the EU via their territory, usually in exchange of visa facilitation for certain categories of their nationals.

EU leaders will decide that the development resources be used according to the “more for more” principle as incentives for concluding and implementing readmission agreements. Also, EU aid will be redirected toward local capacity-building, including for border control, asylum, counter-smuggling and reintegration.

Additionally, Frontex, the EU border management agency, will be strengthened in order to initiate returns by itself. Return decisions issued by member states would be entered in the Schengen Information System.

Commission defeated

It is now certain that the Commission proposal to relocate migrants across the EU countries via compulsory quota has finally been defeated.

On 27 May, the executive proposed the relocation of 40,000 refugees from Italy and Greece to other EU countries, as well as the resettlement of 20,000 from outside the EU, across member states.

The plan for compulsory quotas was rejected by EU interior ministers on 16 June. Now, reports indicate, immigrant relocation will take place on a voluntary basis.

>> Read: Ministers reject Commission’s immigrant quota proposal

The “correction” vis-à-vis the Commission proposal from 27 May, following “pressure from the capitals”, will be in the texts in the Conclusions addressing the return of immigrants to their countries of origin, the official said.

The conclusions will also provide a mandate for the EU-Africa summit on migration in Valetta this autumn, as well for a similar event for the Western Balkan countries which have also experienced a surge of migrants in the last couple of years.

“It has been clear since April that the idea of mandatory quotas for relocation will never gather support of the member states,” the official said, criticising the Commission. Its president, Jean-Claude Juncker, keeps repeating that the EU executive won’t change its mind on the proposals it made in May.

>> Read: Juncker: Commission won’t change its migration agenda

12 to 13 countries were against the concept of mandatory quotas, 12 countries were ready to accept mandatory quotas but did not accept the parameters, and two countries said the number of 40.000 migrants to be relocated is not enough, the official said.

A solution is still sought

The official recognised that a solution to the informal relocation of migrants from “frontline countries” such as Italy and Greece still remained and was going to be part of the Conclusions, but that Council President Tusk was himself of the opinion that mandatory quotas “will not fly”.

But he added that a voluntary system should not become “the excuse for doing nothing, or to do something which is ridiculous”.

The official also said that immigration was going to be a very serious problem for Europe in the years to come. “We need to be prepared for even bigger challenges in the future,” he said.

Another senior EU diplomat said the summit would not decide on precise commitments for relocation from each country. “But we can define a method for doing it,” he said, adding that a decision was expected in July, under the Luxembourg Presidency.

“All the member states – all of them – should accept their share of responsibility,” stressed the diplomat, highlighting that France, Germany, Sweden and Italy were among the five EU countries housing 75% of asylum seekers.

In fact, Britain and Ireland have “opt-ins” on EU matters related to justice and home affairs, meaning they only participate if they so choose, while Denmark has an “opt-out”, meaning it will not participate.

“There has to be a broader and fairer burden sharing because this is a European issue,” the diplomat stressed, admitting that this would pose a challenge for some Eastern EU member states which have no experience of welcoming refugees.

“They don’t have this tradition so they have to put the structures in place to welcome those people. This is a political undertaking that needs to be started to make sure that everyone can make a commitment to welcome refugees.”

The European Commission, he said, will have to work with each member state to assess their level of commitment, taking into consideration the efforts already made.

Hungary said yesterday (23 June) it has indefinitely suspended the application of EU asylum rules in order to “protect Hungarian interests”, as the country faces a rising number of migrants arriving from Kosovo, the Middle East and Africa.

>> Read: Hungary suspends EU asylum rules

Asked if this issue was likely to be discussed, an EU official said that this was a topic which would most certainky trigger exchanges between leaders. But he added that the Council had not yet received the assessment by the Commission of the legal implications of such a move.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on the Hungarian decision, the Commission said its services were exploring with the authorities in Budapest what the technical reasons and the specific circumstances that inspired the decision to suspend the country’s obligations under the Dublin Regulation.

“We can face emergencies on migratory flows at the Union borders only by ensuring solidarity among all member states and responsibility of each member state in ensuring compliance with the EU asylum rules,” the Commission said.

The EU summit is also due to listen to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who will present his counterparts with a list of demands for the UK’s European Union membership renegotiation at the European Council dinner.

>> Read: Cameron to serve up renegotiation demands at Council dinner

But the elephant in the room are the talks to prevent Greece from bankruptcy. Diplomats say that this is not an issue for the summit, and that EU leaders are getting ready not to negotiate, but rather to welcome an agreement reached at the discussion being held at eurozone ministerial level, also involving the ECB and the IMF.

Defence issues are going to be kept at a minimum, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg presenting his views on the new threats and the strengthening of EU-NATO ties on Friday morning.

CONCORD, the European confederation of Relief and Development NGOs, called on European leaders to act for the safety of people first and for their right to well-being.

For CONCORD, tragedies at sea constitute a grave indictment of current EU approach to migration that continues focusing on security and border controls rather than on ensuring the safety of people arriving on its shores. The balance between security and migrants’ rights is deeply uneven, against the fundamental values of the European Charter.

CONCORD regrets that migration is clearly designed as a component of a security policy rather than a driver for development.

Therefore, CONCORD calls on heads of states to take a holistic approach and address seriously the root causes of forced migration; these are the factors that force people to seek protection and a better life in Europe. Portraying the criminal activities of traffickers as the root causes of people migrating deliberately ignores these many factors.

CONCORD calls on heads of states to reaffirm, like EU’s Development Ministers did recently, that the EU is committed to work on the “links between migration and development”, emphasizing that “development cooperation can contribute to ensuring that migration is a choice rather than a necessity”.

The EU should increase investment in inclusive development, decent work and social protection in countries of origin so that migration becomes an option among others and not a necessity, for people who migrate. EU should forge a new humanitarian and development policy for preventing crisis and conflicts as well as trade and common security policies that are coherent with development objectives.

ONE, the campaigning and advocacy organisation co-founded by Bono, called on the EU heads of state and government to increase the EU’s commitment to the fight against extreme poverty by agreeing to collectively spend half of aid on the world’s poorest countries.

Tamira Gunzburg, director of ONE Brussels, said: “This week, the European Council must reverse the perverse trend of cutting aid to the world’s poorest countries. If we are to end extreme poverty by 2030, leaders must drive up the EU’s ambition and commit to directing half of aid to the least developed countries.”

“It is unacceptable that extreme poor people in the poorest countries receive less aid per capita than extreme poor people in other developing countries.”

This week’s European Council is a critical opportunity for EU leaders to change their collective position ahead of the Financing for Development summit in Addis Ababa in July. At this historic summit, world leaders will decide on how to finance the fight against extreme poverty.

Gunzburg continued: “In May, EU development ministers committed to spending 0.2% of national income on aid to the poorest countries within the next 15 years. But that represents less than a third of total aid. To get the job done, the EU must be bold and scale up the share of aid spent on the poorest countries before it is too late.”

Avaaz Campaign Director Alice Jay said: “The Mediterranean graveyard is Europe’s shame. While this leak shows the EU is prepared to throw a lifeline to desperate families, it leaves important questions unanswered. 400,000 citizens are calling on Hollande, Rajoy and Cameron to stop haggling over numbers and let down the drawbridge on fortress Europe. Every day of delay will see growing threats to freedom of movement in Europe, and more tragic drownings on our southern shores. Just this weekend, we brought a boat full of aid supplies to Kos and Leros. Here is the video."

European Union (EU) leaders should ensure effective solutions to meet the growing global refugee crisis and more equitable responsibility sharing across the EU, said Amnesty International as the EU summit is about to start.

“EU leaders must acknowledge that the strains on frontline countries such as a Greece and Italy are the product of Europe’s failed migration policies. The recent Amnesty International fact-finding mission to the Greek islands (Chios and Lesvos) and follow-up research reveal that new arrivals – including children – face appalling reception conditions. Poor planning, ineffective use of EU funds, and a hiring freeze has left Greek authorities incapable of meeting the needs and protecting the rights of refugees.

“Each month the humanitarian crisis worsens. Concerted action by the Greek authorities (including the provision of coastguards, police and first reception authorities on the islands) but also EU leaders is needed in response to this crisis. Whilst the implementation of EU relocation plans may take some pressure off frontline member states in the short term, to comprehensively tackle the global refugee crisis, more safe and legal routes must be offered to people in need of protection.

“One such measure that Amnesty International has been calling for is an increased number of resettlement places for refugees. The European Commission’s proposal for an EU wide resettlement scheme involving all member states, on top of existing national resettlement schemes included in the European Agenda on Migration, is a good idea but the numbers proposed fall far short of what would be an adequate response to the global refugee crisis. As such, Amnesty International is urging member states to support at a minimum the European Resettlement Scheme for 20,000 refugees, on top of existing national schemes. In addition, humanitarian admissions and visas for people in need of international protection should be increased, and family reunification for refugees facilitated.”

On 27 May, the Commission proposed the relocation of 40,000 refugees from Italy and Greece to other EU countries, as well as the resettlement of 20,000 from outside the EU, across member states. The Commission's scheme needs to be adopted by the Council of the European Union, voting by qualified majority.

It was clear from the outset that the proposal stood no chance of being accepted by most member states, given the reactions of EU leaders at the extraordinary summit on migration on 23 April (see background).

>>Read: Commission on collision course with member states on migration

It also became obvious that many countries, including France and Germany, do not reject the idea of burden-sharing, but consider that the proposed quotas need to be reworked.

>>Read: Germany and France urge Commission to revise immigration plan

>> Read : Many EU countries say “no” to immigration quotas

On 16 June, EU interior ministers rejected the plan based on mandatory quotas. The EU summit on 25-26 June will discuss the issue further.

>> Read: Ministers reject Commission’s immigrant quota proposal

  • 25 June: EU summit begins at 16.00. Press conference and Council conclusions on migration expected by 22.00 hours.
  • 26 June: Summit continues with NATO, EMU, Greece on agenda.

Subscribe to our newsletters