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Migration summit still has no clear answers

L’Opinion reports that yesterday’s meeting of EU Home Affairs Ministers was very tense. Despite the tensions, the ministers managed to reach an agreement to impose mandatory and automatic controls on all EU citizens at the external borders.

Taking a different perspective, Kathimerini reports that yesterday’s meeting ended without conclusion, without Austria changing its stance and with Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos sending a dramatic message, stressing that the EU has 10 days to control the refugee flow, otherwise the entire system will collapse. The ministers appear to have set themselves a deadline of 7 March before resorting to cutting Greece off and probably suspending the Schengen zone for up to two years, notes The Guardian.

El País notes that ministers defended the need to give a joint response, yet each country continued tackling the issue on its own. Austria reaffirmed that it will push ahead with limits on refugee arrivals, as Germany issued a threat to take similar action and Greece warned that it will not accept “becoming a Lebanon.” Cadena Ser reports that yesterday’s meeting became a reflection of the EU’s chaos in its shared handling of the crisis.

Thomas Mayer writes in Der Standard that the EU interior ministers have realised that they and their governments have failed and have turned a blind eye to the dramatic situation of refugees from the Middle East for far too long. Meanwhile, An ABC editorial argues that Commissioner Avramopoulos was right in saying that the consequences for the EU will be disastrous if the inflow of refugees to Europe is not swiftly curbed, but adds that the EU should not put its interior stability in the hands of a country like Turkey.

The Guardian says the meeting was clouded by a row between Greece and Austria, as the Greek government recalled the Greek Ambassador to Austria for deliberations, following the meeting between Austria and the Western Balkan countries. Several Austrian leaders spoke to the media to defend their country’s actions. Chancellor Werner Faymann said Austria has to take action on its own as the European solution, which he prefers, will not materialise in time, in an interview with the Kurier.

In an interview in Österreich the Austrian Chancellor says it would be convenient for the European Commission that Austria continues to help, but this is no longer feasible. In an interview with Salzburger Nachrichten, Austrian Vice-Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner says the EU’s criticism of Austria’s border management is just an effort to hide its own inconsistency and lack of action. In an interview with Österreich, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner says she remains tough in her line on the asylum issue despite criticism on the part of the European Commission, Berlin and Athens.

She cannot accept that refugees are constantly waved all the way through to Austria, as she is responsible for security in Austria. But Efymerida Ton Sintakton notes that there is “an Austrian with a different stance,” namely President Heinz Fischer who sided against the “chaotic” policy that Austria is implementing and expressed surprise over the fact that Greece was not invited to the Vienna Summit yesterday.

In other reports, Le Soir quotes an EC spokesperson confirming that Belgian authorities notified the EC on its decision to impose border controls on the Belgian-French border invoking “article 24 of the Schengen Borders Code,” and that the EC has sent a demand for clarification to the Belgian authorities. The daily wonders if the Belgian authorities invoked the wrong reason for the controls. reports that the European Commission does not understand why Hungary wants to organise a referendum on the relocation scheme for asylum seekers.

On France 3, EC First Vice-President Timmermans acknowledges that the refugee crisis is “a failure of Europe and a failure of the world for not stopping the war in Syria.” Yet, Mr Timmermans denies it is the end of the Schengen area. “What annoys me is that we take decisions at the European Council, with the ministers. But once ministers get back home, they do nothing.” Angela Merkel also says the solutions to the European refugee crisis do not lay at the German borders, but in the fight against the reasons for flight and the protection of the EU’s external borders, in an interview with Rheinpflaz.

Refugees must be distributed throughout Europe, and Frontex must be supported in its fight against human smugglers. Sueddeutsche Zeitung’s Thomas Kirchner writes that no one but the European Commission still believes in the European relocation scheme for 160,000 refugees. Luckily, Germany has realised the futility of this plan and is developing the alternative strategy of cooperation with Turkey even if it is far from an ideal partner. In optimistic calls for unity, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg writes in El País that he is “proud” of NATO’s efforts to help its allies and the EU in grappling with the migrant and refugee crisis.

The Guardian’s editorial says the rational solutions to the crisis have long been laid out, but their implementation is lacking. “The EU is a rich bloc of 500 million inhabitants that should be capable of managing the arrival of hundreds of thousands of desperate people.” In pessimistic reports, Le Figaro‘s Philippe Gélie says that the Schengen zone, once a “charming utopia of an open area of free movement on the continent,” is now dead. He wonders whether Hollande and Merkel, Europe’s masters, are aware that the EU’s very survival is at stake.



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