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EU leaders debate on the refugee crisis at the EU summit

Yesterday, European leaders met in Brussels for the final EU summit of the year. Most media report that the main topics for Thursday and Friday are immigration, the fight against terrorism, the future of the economic and monetary union, ongoing negotiations with Britain to avoid a Brexit, energy, and Russian sanctions.

Speaking ahead of the Council, EP President Schulz described it as “a very difficult summit at the end of a dramatic year,” Cyprus media report. Yesterday, EU leaders notably debated the refugee crisis. They were expected to discuss the very controversial proposals tabled by the European Commission this week to create an EU border and coastguard, empowered to overrule national governments when the EU’s external frontiers are deemed to be inadequately secured.

The proposal received strong support from German and French leaders on Thursday, but in many parts of the EU it was viewed as an assault on national sovereignty. and bTV report that yesterday EC President Juncker appeared optimistic that the 28 EU leaders would agree at least in principle with the European Coast and Border Guard proposal. “We must protect our borders,” he noted, adding that the situation created by the reinstatement of border controls within Schengen must come to an end.

According to Efimerida Ton Sintakton and La Stampa, representatives of the EU-28 have agreed they must correct and implement decisions already taken on the immigration emergency, before the next summit in February. Nevertheless, Italian PM Renzi said he was angry over the infringement procedure against Italy, and promised that the hotspots would be opened soon. He said it was “surreal” that Italy is being asked to keep migrants even longer, without steps being taken to relocate them, La Stampa writes. Greek PM Tsipras also referred to the delays in the relocation of refugees, calling on European partners to keep to their commitments.

In an interview with ERT1, Head of the EC Representation in Greece Panos Carvounis noted that so far, only 100 refugees have been relocated to other EU member states. He nevertheless appeared hopeful that from now on relocations will be speeded up. ERT1 and Alithia refer to a Reuters report revealing an unofficial document of the Luxembourg government currently holding the rotating EU Presidency, which notes that Turkey has not sufficiently proven that it can restrict the transit of migrants to the Greek islands, two weeks after the agreement with the EU was signed. Nevertheless, Migration Commissioner Avramopoulos said: “Turkey needs the money, or it will be overburdened by the situation.” If Ankara “opens the gates,” the refugees will “follow the road to Europe,” he further noted, as quoted by ARD.

Before the EU summit, German Chancellor Merkel led a smaller summit, attended by seven other government leaders – from Scandinavia, Benelux, Austria, and Greece – aimed at trying to agree on how to share quotas of refugees taken directly from Turkey as part of a flagging €3bn deal Brussels recently reached with Ankara. The mini-summit was also attended by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and EC President Juncker, ORF2 reports. But the “coalition of the willing” could only attract 11 of the 28 EU countries, highlighting that there is no longer a majority in the EU prepared to support a new system of permanent quotas to share refugees across the union.

According to ARD, EP President Schulz said that Europe has never been as divided as it is now. La Libre Belgique writes that Jean-Claude Juncker denied that this mini-summit means the migration crisis is dividing Europe: “I do not think this is the signal of a definitive split of the EU.” In an interview with Paussauer Neue Presse, European Commissioner Avramopoulos argued that “if we are a union, we must act like a union.”

Meanwhile, according to European Commission Chief Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas, the third relocation of refugees from Greece to Lithuania took place on Wednesday, as well as the relocation of refugees from Greece and Italy to Portugal, Athina 984 reports.


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