During the European Council summit on 28-29 June, EU leaders adopted conclusions on the Union’s approach to human migration. The conclusions prioritise blocking the flow of migrants to Europe, again dismissing reform of the asylum system.
The EU plans to create centres of disembarkation outside Europe for migrants rescued at sea. In Member States that agree to it, other control centres for migrants will be established to manage relocations of people who may apply for asylum in other Member States. The leaders announced the further strengthening of Frontex resources and mandate, keeping the agency’s support role for national border services. They also committed to fight secondary movement of asylum-seekers in the EU. The need to reform the Dublin Regulation was not resolved; however, the summit conclusions stipulated that the matter would be based on consensus. In practice, this means abandoning the system of mandatory quotas.
The countries of the Visegrad Group (V4, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) can be satisfied with the summit outcome. Relocations will take place only among Member States that agree to them and reform of the Dublin system will not be adopted by a majority voting procedure. The conclusions also underline that Frontex will not replace national border services, a concern raised by the V4 and described as excessive EU interference in the competences of the Member States. The summit conclusions only generally refer to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s primary proposal to end secondary movement in the EU. However, the chancellor stated that during the summit she obtained the consent of 14 Member States to return migrants who had previously registered on their territory. The summit did not bring concrete solutions for the countries of southern Europe. They were given only an announcement of the intention to send people saved at sea to centres outside the EU.
The creation of centres in EU neighbourhood countries where migrants rescued at sea would be returned will be difficult. Even before the summit, some of these countries had signalled their reluctance to host returned migrants on their territory. Another challenge is the creation of migrant control centres inside the EU and the relocation of people eligible for asylum. In the comments made after the summit, no EU state declared it would create the control centres on its own territory and the leaders of Italy and France outright rejected the possibility. It is also difficult to expect progress in the relocation process without creating specific incentives for countries receiving asylum-seekers. How to limit secondary movement of migrants is also in question. After the summit, several countries distanced themselves from the idea of accepting asylum-seekers from Germany.
The EU leaders expressed satisfaction with the agreement but tensions between the countries probably will not cease. Difficulties in the implementation of provisions regarding the external elements of the strategy (creating centres for migrants outside the EU and accelerating returns) in the absence of progress in the relocation process will increase the pressure from Italy and other southern Member States to develop solidarity mechanisms in EU migration policy. The Italian interior minister announced that Italian ports will remain closed to foreign NGOs that save migrants at sea. Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio threatened that, in the absence of support for Italy on migration, his government will reconsider its contribution to the EU budget.
The summit decisions did not end the disputes within the ruling coalition in Germany. Horst Seehofer, the leader of CSU, has not hidden his disappointment with the proposals of the “European solution to the crisis” presented to him after the summit by Chancellor Merkel. CSU was trying again to persuade Merkel to unilaterally tighten German migration policy. The dispute over migration policy risked a collapse of the CDU / CSU coalition and the government’s majority in the Bundestag. After tough negotiations between CSU and CDU, though, the parties achieved compromise on the issue. According to the new proposal, Germany will restrict migrants who registered in other Member States to transit centres while it negotiates their return.