EU summit shows Europe embroiled in migration issues

The EU informal summit in Bratislava revealed how Europe is embroiled on the issue of migration, which was also the key topic of the EU referendum in the UK. A review of articles published in European media shows many frictions and few areas of agreement.

The leaders of EU countries (UK excluded) met in Bratislava on September 16th to discuss the challenges facing Europe, including Brexit. The result was a declaration that promises to offer people a more attractive vision of the European Union. This will be developed by March 2017, when a summit in Italy will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the beginning of what is now called European Union.

Poland’s Rzeczpospolita noted however that such as a short time frame will inevitably lower the level of ambition. Especially, “no one wants bold controversial ideas in the year Germany and France hold national elections.”

An editorial published on El Pais highlighted the divisions between North and South, East and West, as well as between members and non-members of the Eurozone. These divisions, together with “deeply reactionary political forces on the themes of identity and immigration”, made security the lowest common denominator to unit the 27.

The Spanish paper added: “Europe’s security depends not only on its ability to control the borders, but on the capacity to project that confidence outside, which requires a true common foreign and security policy.”

Internally, Germany’s Die Zeit wrote that uncontrolled mass migration has not only undermined the legitimacy of the EU, but has shaken the trust of Europeans citizens.

In this context, the countries of the Visegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) were seen as the winners, as the summit conclusions did not mention mandatory refugee quotas but focused on cooperation and better protection of borders.

Hungary in particular considered the outcome of the meeting “a vindication of its [anti-migration] policies,” a government spokesman told German weekly Welt am Sonntag.

“There is a chance to eliminate one of the major tensions in the European Union,” commented in an interview with Rzeczpospolita Polish State Secretary for European Affairs Konrad Szymański. But concerns are mounting on another issue: free movement of people, or migration within the EU. In the wake of the UK referendum more Western nations may consider introducing some form of restrictions, he said.

Overall, EU leaders agreed to reinforce the protection of external borders and never allow a “return to uncontrolled flows of last year.” They also committed to  bring down the number of irregular migrants, accelerate the development of a common coast guard and decide on a closer defense cooperation in December. There was agreement to broaden the consensus on a long-term migration policy, without strict commitments.

After the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande held a symbolic joint press conference meant to revive the Franco-German cooperation, wrote Le Monde. The Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, apparently refused to join.

In an interview on Il Corriere della Sera he said: “I talked tough when I didn’t find in the document a line on Africa and immigration, nor on growth and social Europe. On immigration he added that Italy has done the most, while other countries sent “a couple of ships in the Mediterranean that downloaded migrants in Sicily.” He reiterated calls to EU countries to participate in a European relocation programme.

On the occasion of the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, on 19 September in New York, the EU launched an investment plan for Africa in an attempt to tackle the root causes of migration. According to the Italian news agency Ansa, the plan involves 3.7 billion euros and aims to support investments of EU companies “to promote development, employment and stability in Africa.”

Claudia Delpero, Europe Street © All rights reserved

Photo: Bratislava summit. © Etienne Ansotte / European Union, 2016

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