Migrant crisis: EU leaders pledge extra €1bn to help refugees

Europe hardens stance as Tusk says ‘open door’ policy needs to change

Speaking in Brussels ahead of a meeting for EU leaders, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, expresses sympathy with migrants and draws comparisons to Ireland's history. Video: EU Council


EU leaders have pledged to increase humanitarian aid to refugees in Syria’s border countries and strengthen the EU’s external borders, in a bid to take a long-term approach to the refugee crisis that has divided the European Union.

The package of measures agreed at last night’s EU summit include an increase of €1 billion in funding to the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, and the World Food Programme to support refugees in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Leaders also pledged to support Western Balkan countries to handle refugee flows, and engage with Turkey, a key transit country for Syrian refugees entering the European Union.

In a sign of a shift in stance in the EU’s approach to the migration crisis, European Council president Donald Tusk said the EU’s “open doors” policy needs to change. “It is clear that the greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come. Therefore we need to correct the policy of open doors and windows,” the European Council president said after the meeting.

German chancellor Angela Merkel also emphasised that migrants arriving in Europe for economic reasons had no automatic right to protection in the European Union.

The EU’s move towards a more hardline position on the refugee crisis was widely seen as an attempt to mollify east European countries who were forced to accept a relocation plan for refugees at a meeting of justice and home affairs ministers in Brussels on Tuesday. In an unusual move, EU justice ministers endorsed an EU-wide quota system for refugees through a qualified majority voting system, with four countries opposing the move and one member state abstaining.

Earlier, on his way into the meeting, EU Council president Donald Tusk had urged member states to forge a “concrete plan” to deal with the refugee crisis, and leave behind the “arguments and chaos” that have characterised the EU’s response to the refugee crisis over the past few weeks.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny also warned that the refugee crisis had the potential to divide Europe. “If this is not handled properly it actually has the potential to divide Europe between old and new,” he said on his way into the meeting.

Nonetheless, tensions between member states were evident ahead of the meeting.

Slovakia’s prime minister threatened to refer the European Commission’s contentious relocation proposal to the European Court of Justice. “We won’t implement this decision because we think it can’t work,” he said. “We always rejected it as nonsense.” But the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania indicated they would comply with the scheme, albeit reluctantly. Under the proposal member states can face fines for non-compliance with the proposal to distribute refugees across the European Union.

Arriving at the summit, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose country has found itself at the centre of the refugee crisis, said that Greece’s border controls needed to be strengthened.

“If the Greeks are not able to defend their own border, we should ask kindly, because Greece is a sovereign country: let the other countries of the European Union defend the Greek border,” he said. Hungary has argued that the Turkish-Greek border is a key transit country for migrants, and has called on the European Union to focus its resources there.

Earlier, speaking at the Christian Social Union (CSU) conference in Bavaria, Mr Orban warned against “moral imperialism”, saying this country had a “democratic right” to a different approach.“We are Hungarians however, we cannot think with German minds. Hungary should have the right to control the impact of a mass migration,” he said.“The Hungarian people don’t want this, we ask that the wishes of Hungarians be respected.”

As part of a strategy to cooperate with non-EU member states in tackling the refugee crisis, Turkish president Recep Tayip Erdogan is to travel to Brussels for talks on October 5th, with a meeting of Western Balkan countries scheduled a few days later.