The Brief: Money can’t buy you friends

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Migration was confirmed to be the most divisive issue in European politics at the final 2017 EU summit.

The Visegrad group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) will pay €35 million to the EU’s emergency fund for Africa, Jean-Claude Juncker’s initiative to address migration in source countries.

It looks like a simple trade – funding in exchange for not taking in refugees – but Commission President Juncker said that for once he was happy. He said the sum offered is “the proof that the Visegrad countries are fully aligned when it comes with solidarity with Italy and with others”.

As of 27 November, the V4 countries had made a collective contribution of €11 million – which will now be raised to €46 million. Let’s put this into perspective.

Italy has paid €102 million into the fund, making it by far the highest contributor (the Netherlands comes second with 26 million).

And that’s only part of the picture: Italy’s planned expenditure on migration in 2017 is €4.2 billion, more than a half of which is spent on the initial reception of migrants.

This is more than the total amount of the severely underfunded Africa trust fund whose total budget as of last month (€3.2 billion) was almost entirely squeezed from the EU budget (over €2.9 billion).

Yet Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister from the current opposition party, did not budge an inch from his pre-summit position, in which he criticised compulsory relocation quotas as “highly divisive” and “ineffective”.

In what seemed more like a threat than an offering, he closed the summit by saying “the dispute over mandatory quotas is not over yet, but I hope that with yesterday’s debate we have managed to clear the air”.

He also said that 97% of all refugees have been distributed among member states (around 32,000 people according to official figures) – but this is only 2% of the total number of asylum applications.

Reading between the lines: relocation already works, hence there is no need for compulsory quotas. Instead, there is a need to keep our borders closed, because only a tiny fraction of the people arriving to Europe qualify for asylum.

In short, given that most migrants come from Europe’s south-east and by sea, if you happen to be a landlocked or northern country, as members of the V4 group are, you hold onto your geographical advantage.

If you have islands that are the first port of call for hundreds of thousands of migrants (Italy, Greece), or have borders with non-EU countries (Bulgaria), or are a southern state (Spain), too bad. We’ll give (a little) money, but deal with it yourself.

Calling this “solidarity” is ludicrous. V4 countries may be hoping that their offer will make the issue go away, at least for a little while, but money can’t buy you friends.

The Roundup

EU leaders yesterday approved another six months of sanctions against Russia for its aggression in Ukraine. On the same day, 25 EU countries – all except Denmark, the UK and Malta – officially launched PESCO, the defence cooperation programme Donald Tusk described as “bad news for our enemies”.

Today, the EU27 – all minus Mrs May – praised the UK prime minister and waved the Brexit talks through to phase two.

Check our live blog for the latest news and gossip from the EUCO summit.

Estonia is hoping to end its EU presidency on a high by pushing for a final agreement next week to facilitate cross-border data flows within the EU. A deal would cement Tallinn as the EU’s digital powerhouse.

The first ever shipment of Russian liquefied natural gas is steaming towards Britain, after a cracked pipeline in the North Sea raised fears of a winter supply shortage on the archipelago.

Poland’s new PM has braced for the EU to invoke Article 7, stripping Warsaw of its voting rights in the Council, over the government’s repeated threats to the rule of law.

This year’s Sakharov Prize went to Venezuela’s opposition, in recognition of its efforts to uphold human rights. But for some, this is just a distraction for Europe’s own problems closer to home.

Check the Trans-Europe Express for the latest from the Euractiv network. This week: press freedom takes another hit in Poland, the new Czech leader refuses to give ground on refugee quotas, Romanians take to the streets – again – to protest changes to the judicial system, France enshrines the state of emergency in a new anti-terror law and Serbia’s judges raise concerns about the independence of… the judiciary.

Bad news for carnivores: a new study has warned that climate taxes on meat are inevitable if we want to get serious about cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

And is it a breath of fresh air for the EU quarter or a big Belgian waste of money? Schuman roundabout will get a total facelift in 2019, for an estimated €7.7 million.

Look out for…


This is our last Brief for 2017… so look forward to a well-deserved Christmas break. But not before the energy Council starting on Monday. Check out our live blog to follow energy ministers hash out the future of the Energy Union.

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