BRUSSELS—The European Union’s two emergency meetings on the migration crisis this week won’t provide any quick solutions to ease the plight of tens of thousands of people seeking sanctuary in Europe.
As the EU scrambles to respond to scenes of people charging razor-wire fences, suffocating in trucks or bodies washing up on beaches, unity has crumbled as nations in the 28-member bloc trade barbs over who is to blame.
Nothing on the agenda of the meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday will immediately help countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans to manage their borders now. Or next week.
The inaction certainly won’t stop the flow of people moving across Europe, nor will it provide any relief to authorities in individual EU countries trying to slow them down.
Indeed, more than 6,000 people could arrive in Greece alone on Tuesday when interior ministers meet in Brussels and on Wednesday, while EU leaders hold a summit to discuss medium and long-term policy plans.
“The discussions are completely disconnected from reality,” Doctors Without Borders humanitarian adviser Aurelie Ponthieu said after she and a colleague briefed an almost-empty European Parliament chamber last week about rescue efforts in the Mediterranean. Most EU lawmakers and senior officials decided instead to go to lunch.
The arrival of about 500,000 people this year, mostly through Greece and Italy, has laid bare fundamental divisions between former Communist countries and partners further West over how to manage migration.
Aid groups are imploring the EU to set up safe corridors for people to enter, while the U.N. refugee agency wants the bloc to take Syrian refugees from Middle Eastern countries and Turkey.
But faced even with a humanitarian emergency, the EU gives priority to debates about unity and policy over immediate action to tackle Europe’s biggest refugee challenge in decades.
Wednesday’s summit in Brussels is unlikely to be an exception.
“It is essential to establish a credible migration policy,” European Council President Donald Tusk said in his invitation letter to the leaders.
Differences over migration “cannot be an excuse not to develop a comprehensive strategy or to build a sound migration policy that is effective and responsible while respecting our core values,” he said.
And it won’t be the last meeting of its kind. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday that the “consultations will be important, but they will not lead to the problem we have being set aside. There cannot and will not be a solution overnight; many more meetings and discussions will follow. We will need patience.”
Divisions are starkest when it comes to sharing responsibility for hosting the thousands coming to Europe, around two-thirds of whom could qualify for asylum or some form of international protection.
The Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia are vehemently opposed to any obligatory quotas, while Poland, Latvia and Estonia are also skeptical.
More movement might occur later on Tuesday when interior ministers tackle the quota issue at their second emergency meeting in eight days.
The aim is to endorse a plan to share 120,000 refugees arriving in Italy and debt-laden Greece, and perhaps Hungary, even though Budapest is refusing to take part in this kind of arrangement.
When compared to the 4 million refugees being sheltered in Turkey, Lebanon and impoverished Jordan, the numbers seem paltry for a major world trading power with population of 500 million.
Still, the original plan has been reworked in recent days by ambassadors and experts to try to find some margin for compromise among intractable member states.
Meanwhile, numbers are swelling. An estimated 3,000-4,000 people arrive in Greece each day. Many plan to move north to set up home in Germany, bringing yet more pressure to overburdened borders as they go.