After months of delay and debate, European Union leaders agreed early Thursday to mount a broader, more comprehensive response to Europe’s migration crisis, including ponying up more money to aid refugees in the Middle East, both to feed them and to reduce the chance they will come to Europe, and to toughen EU border controls.
“In the face of a major challenge, Europe can’t just say: we will not deal with this. That would completely wrong,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We have to find answers together.”
Here, in brief, is what Merkel and other EU leaders agreed to at their extraordinary summit meeting in Brussels:
“Urgent needs” of refugees currently in the Middle East will be met with at least 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in fresh EU funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, World Food Program and other agencies, the leaders decided. Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other countries dealing with refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war should also receive greater injections of EU assistance, including through a “substantial increase” in the EU’s Regional Trust Fund.
“We need to do more to stabilize the countries and the regions from which these people are coming,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said as the meeting began. He announced Britain would commit another 100 million pounds ($152 million) for Syrian refugee relief.
Around a half-million people, many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, have entered the 28-nation EU already this year. For the bloc, EU President Donald Tusk said Wednesday, the most urgent question “is how to retain control of our external borders.” The leaders agreed to beef up border controls by providing more resources, including personnel and equipment from their countries, to help Frontex, the EU’s border agency, Europol and other EU organizations. By November, new EU dedicated teams will be fully deployed to assist local authorities in Greece and Italy — where most people have been arriving — with identification, fingerprinting and registration to see whether they qualify for aslyum.
The leaders called for stepped-up dialogue with Turkey, home to nearly 2 million refugees, as well as assistance to non EU-member countries in the Balkans through which large numbers of refugees now transit. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Brussels Oct. 5. Member states should also contribute more to stabilize African countries that have become a source of displaced persons, the leaders said.
Peace in Syria
The EU summit called for a “renewed UN-led international effort” to end the war in Syria, which it said has driven an estimated 12 million people from their homes. “The EU commits to doing its part in this respect,” the leaders said.
To broker peace in Syria, Merkel said, “you have to talk to a lot of actors, and that includes (President Bashar) Assad.”
On Tuesday, EU nations clashed on a plan to relocate 120,000 migrants, with four EU countries — the Czech republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania — in opposition. Despite that, the official summit communique stressed that all EU member states share the commitment to dealing with the migration crisis together. “We all recognized that there are no easy solutions and that we can only manage this challenge by working together, in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility,” the statement said.
What Comes Next
The decisions taken at the EU summit show “a common understanding that we cannot continue as before,” but won’t be enough by themselves to end the crisis, Tusk said. The issue will be back on the agenda at the next meeting of EU presidents and prime ministers Oct. 15-16 in Brussels. Between now and then, the leaders said, their governments and EU institutions should take “operational decisions” on the most urgent actions agreed to Thursday.