Tusk and Orbán on collision course with Merkel over refugee crisis

Orbán and Tusk [European Council]

EU Council President Donald Tusk and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán indirectly rebuked German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday (22 October), calling arguments over how to accommodate refugees “naïve” as long as Europe fails to stop them.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was at a gathering in Madrid where Tusk, a former Polish premier, criticised fellow conservatives over the handling of the migration crisis. Others present included Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Tusk, who chairs summits of EU national leaders, named no names, but his blunt language offered a glimpse of what diplomats say is an increasingly testy debate behind the scenes between those like Tusk who stress the urgency of tightening Europe’s borders and others including Merkel pushing for states to show “solidarity” and share responsibilities for refugees among them.

“We can no longer allow solidarity to be equivalent to naïveté, openness to be equivalent to helplessness, freedom to be equivalent to chaos. And by that, I am of course referring to the situation on our borders,” Tusk said in a 5-minute speech.

As migrants and bad weather cause chaos in the Balkans, Merkel’s push for a crisis meeting with regional leaders that Juncker will host on Sunday (25 October) has raised concerns about a rift emerging between those emphasising humanitarian issues and those stressing security, even if all agree both are important.

>>Read: Juncker calls EU-Balkans mini-summit over refugee crisis

Addressing the center-right European People’s Party, Donald Tusk said that the leaders present must not “abdicate” their “primary duty” to protect their territory. “If you want to help others, you need to first be able to take care of yourself and your loved ones,” he said, praising host Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for curbing illegal migration to Spain.

The German Chancellor supports the range of measures the European Council agreed on this year, including frontier controls, but also pilot schemes to relocate Syrian refugees and other asylum seekers around the bloc.

Under pressure at home, however, as Germany prepares to take in a million or so migrants this year, Merkel’s push for a permanent relocation mechanism setting binding national quotas has met fierce resistance, notably from easterners like Orbán.

Critics say Merkel, Europe’s most influential leader, risks distracting the EU from efforts to stem the inflow and may even encourage more immigrants by emphasising a need to welcome them. Her allies are sceptical that people can be kept out, and want Europe to be organised to cope with new arrivals next spring.

Refugee crisis or migratory movement?

Orbán said in his speech at the EPP congress that what Europe was facing was not a “refugee crisis”, as the European Commission insists on calling it, but “a migratory movement composed of economic migrants, refugees and also foreign fighters”.

“This is an uncontrolled and unregulated process. I would like to remind you that free choice of a host country is not included in the international law. I also want to underline that there is an unlimited source of supply of people; after Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa is now also on the move. The dimension and the volume of the danger is well above our expectations,” Orban said.

The Hungarian Prime Minister further argued that “it could not be the EU’s objective to provide immigrants with “a new European life”.

“Right to human dignity and security are basic rights. But neither the German, Austrian nor the Hungarian way of life is a basic right of all people on the Earth. It is only a right of those ones who have contributed to it. Europe is not able to accept everyone who wants a better life. We have to help them to get back their own lives with dignity and we have to send them back to their own countries”, the Hungarian Prime Minister said.

Orban said that Europe was “rich and weak”, which he said was “the most possibly dangerous mixture”. If Europeans have been unable to defend their common borders at its eastern gate Greece, then it has to do it at the western gate of the Balkans, at Hungary and Slovenia, he said.

Who is to blame?

Stopping short of criticising Merkel for her open-door policy vis-à-vis the refugees, Orban slammed the European left, who he said was “supportive of migration”.

“They are supportive to migration. They actually import future leftist voters to Europe hiding behind humanism. […]They have a dream about the politically constructed world society without religious traditions, without borders, without nations. They attack core values of our European identity: family, nation, subsidiarity, responsibility.” Orban said.

In contrast, Donald Tusk admitted division amid the EPP on how to tackle the migrant crisis and criticised the extreme right.

The Council President called for an end to “this completely unnecessary argument between the proponents of protecting external borders and the advocates of solidarity and openness”, and for a “rational hybrid” of both.

“Our political aim should be to strengthen Europe against right-wing extremists, and not to become like them,” Tusk said.

Reminding the promises made

Juncker, who also took the floor, chided EU member states for not respecting their pledges of humanitarian aid to tackle the migrant crisis, saying “urgency” was needed.

“The migrant crisis which we are experiencing will not be over at Christmas, it is a crisis that will last and long-term action is needed,” he said.

Member states pledged a total of €2.3 billion in aid to tackle the crisis but so far have only deliver 275 million euros, Juncker noted.

“Let’s not write poems or make promises, let’s act because there is urgency,” the Commission President warned.

“We must be conscious of our responsibility,” he added.

>> Read: Juncker expects EU leaders to pledge €2.25 billion for refugee fund

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