Migration disagreement mars EU summit

AFP , Friday 30 Jun 2023

Poland and Hungary's refusal to go along with a widely agreed EU revision of asylum rules soured a summit of the bloc's leaders that wrapped up Friday, detracting from unity on other issues including on Ukraine.

Hungary s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, right, speaks with Italy s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, cen
Hungary s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, right, speaks with Italy s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, center, and Poland s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, left, during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 29, 2023. AP


Warsaw and Budapest baulked at a summit declaration that would have enshrined the general EU agreement for member states to share out the hosting of asylum-seekers -- or pay those that do.

That forced the summit's chair, European President Charles Michel, to instead issue a statement in his own name saying that "work will be stepped up" on migration issues, but noting Poland and Hungary's dissent.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the preliminary June 8 agreement revising asylum rules that was adopted by a big majority of EU countries was a "watershed", and she expected it to be made into legislation before the end of this year

Unity on Ukraine

She, Michel and other leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, insisted that the main message from the summit was unity on Ukraine.

The EU leaders jointly endorsed reinforced support for Ukraine, and to lay the ground for a "Global Peace Summit" that would discuss post-war peace for the country "within its internationally recognised borders".

They also agreed to look at "future security commitments" for Ukraine, suggested by France.

Diplomats said they would likely take the form of bilateral guarantees, rather than ones involving the whole bloc, as Ireland and Austria maintain military neutrality.

French President Emmanuel Macron did not expound on the initiative to media, because he cut his summit presence short to return to France to address widespread rioting there triggered by the fatal police shooting of a teenager of North African origin.

The idea of imposing a "windfall tax" on interest raised from Russian central bank assets frozen under EU sanctions to go to Ukraine was also raised at the summit -- but to varied reception.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said "we are working" on the topic, which could raise three billion euros ($3.3 billion) annually for Ukraine's reconstruction.

But Scholz, concerned that such a step could harm the euro's reputation, was more cautious. He called the idea "terribly complicated" adding that "nobody knows at the moment what is possible".

Migration dispute

The dispute on migration generated the most drama at the summit, but Poland and Hungary's stance looked unlikely to derail the EU agreement to share the burden where it came to asylum-seekers.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he did not want "forced relocations" of migrants to be in the summit text -- and drew a link between the issue of migration and the violence erupting in France.

"Put these two images together: that of Paris suburbs today, with big riots, the looting of stores, broken windows, cars on fire," against "calm Polish towns.... The image that we are defending is probably obvious: Poland has chosen security, peace and public order," he said.

The EU disagreement was playing out in the shadow of a June 14 sinking of an overcrowded migrant boat off Greece in which at least 82 people drowned.

A Dutch-based rights group, Lighthouse Reports, accused Greek authorities of tampering with survivors' testimony to avoid allegations -- made by some survivors -- that the tragedy occurred because the Greek coast guard tied a rope to the vessel and powered away, causing it to capsize.

Survivors told AFP that they were pressured by Greek authorities to not speak to media, and to not attribute responsibility for the capsizing to the Greek coast guard.

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