A scrambled, last minute meeting took place in Brussels on Sunday night. The emergency summit was brought together to discuss the divisive issue of immigration but it’s other main purpose was to prop up the struggling German Government led by Angela Merkel.
The German Chancellor, whose CDU party is involved in a bitter dispute over refugee policy with its conservative sister party in Bavaria, the CSU, has had to concede that the bloc had so far failed to find a joint solution to the problems associated with open borders.
Since Mediterranean arrivals spiked in 2015, when more than a million refugees and migrants reached the bloc, EU leaders have been at odds over how to handle them. The feud has weakened their unity and undermined Europe’s Schengen free-travel area.
It hasn’t just been Germany that is expressing concern over the immigration policies of the EU. The recently elected Italian Government caused a stand-off earlier this month when it refused to allow the migrant rescue ship, the Aquarius, to dock. Whilst eventually the Spanish Government stepped in, the drama was a physical embodiment of the crisis engulfing the bloc.
The Italian Government has openly said it is no longer willing to be the gateway to Europe for migrants and insists that something must change.
The Hungarian Government too has been openly critical of the current policies and is making moves against the status quo.
Yet the outspoken Hungarian Government is deeply opposed to the idea of immigration quotas.
This is the crux of the problem for the EU. The emergency meeting last night called for shared EU responsibility for rescued migrants and penalties for countries refusing to accept quotas.
The talks last night were “frank and open,” but “we don’t have any concrete consequences or conclusions,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.
The lack of consensus demonstrates how difficult this issue will be to resolve for the EU and raises questions about how wise it was for the EU to introduce such a policy in the first place.
The German Chancellor has had to admit that its unlikely that an agreement on the issue is likely to emerge out of the EU Summit and therefore she will seek direct deals with separate EU states on migration in order to save her Government.
A poll published in Germany on Sunday showed the dispute was weakening support for Merkel’s coalition and pushed the anti-immigration party, the AfD to its highest ratings.
Even though EU leaders agree they want to go on curbing arrivals through working with third countries like Tunisia or Niger, such accords are complicated, slow and costly.
To convince the CSU, Ms Merkel needs deals to stop migrants trekking north, as well as to send back to the coastal states those people who make it to Germany against EU rules.
Whilst it is set to be a big week for European Leaders, don’t expect concrete decisions on the immigration saga any time soon.