Immediate change to EU migration strategy ruled out

Leaders to be briefed by justice ministers in December on short-term responses

British prime minister David Cameron and German chancellor Angela Merkel ata meeting on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels yesterday. Migration and an upcoming Eastern Partnership summit  topped the summit agenda. Photograph: Yves Herman/AP

British prime minister David Cameron and German chancellor Angela Merkel ata meeting on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels yesterday. Migration and an upcoming Eastern Partnership summit topped the summit agenda. Photograph: Yves Herman/AP

Sat, Oct 26, 2013, 01:01



EU leaders have put off any immediate change to European migration policy until next June, despite the emergency rescue of 700 migrants in the Mediterranean early on Thursday morning.

The interception by Italian authorities of two migrant boats south of the island of Lampedusa follows a number of boat tragedies in recent weeks which have claimed the lives of almost 550 people.

However, EU leaders meeting in Brussels yesterday ruled out any reappraisal of a long- term strategy on the immigration crisis for at least eight months, indicating they will return to a debate at next year’s June summit.

Leaders will be briefed by justice ministers in December on short-term responses, including moves to strengthen Frontex, the EU’s border management agency.

At the end of the two-day summit yesterday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe had only recently completed a five-year debate on immigration policy. It was important to distinguish between short-term and long-term measures, she said.

“At the European level, we have reacted. The interior ministers have set up a taskforce to ponder what short-term steps should be taken and met for the first time this week. In December we will be briefed.”

Asked whether she supported the idea of a “distribution key” which would specify how many asylum seekers each member state could offer to host, the chancellor said the issue of a quota had not been discussed.

“We ought to take more time and reflect at some greater length,” she said, adding that Germany had already accepted more asylum seekers than many other European states.

Members of the European Parliament’s committee have called for a distribution system to help locate internationally displaced persons within the EU.

However, Dr Merkel said the Dublin convention, which stipulates that applications for asylum by immigrants should only be processed by the country into which they first arrive, remains the foundation of immigration policy.

After the summit Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Ireland had particular sympathy with the plight of migrants, given the history of Irish boat tragedies during the period of emigration in the 19th century. “We had our own forerunners of Lampedusa,” Mr Kenny said.

Italy, Malta, Greece and Bulgaria were among the countries that intervened on asylum policy during the meeting of all 28 heads of state. However, despite widespread outrage at the Lampedusa tragedy, member states are reluctant to reopen the debate because of concerns about immigration in many European countries.

President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso said yesterday that the EU taskforce, which met this week, was focusing on a number of areas. These included reinforcing search and rescue operations, and working with African countries. An EU-Africa summit is planned for next year. Separately, leaders announced a strict timetable for implementation of a banking union in a bid to kick-start a process that has become mired in disagreements.

In its conclusions on the summit, the European Council urged member states to adopt the final two so-called “pillars” of banking union, the bank recovery and resolution directive and deposit guarantee scheme by the end of the year.

It also called for agreement on the separate but interconnected single resolution mechanism, a centralised body that will be tasked with winding down troubled banks, by year end.

Germany has been staunchly opposed to the European Commission’s proposal for a Brussels-based body that would have the power to close banks and manage their wind down, favouring a network of national resolution authorities.