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.
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.
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.
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.
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.