EU migration summit: why can’t a deal be struck?

Several proposals are on the table but the bloc remains deeply divided over how to solve the crisis

A young refugee arrives on Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey
(Image credit: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

European leaders are gathering in Brussels today for yet another summit focused on resolving the migrant crisis - but there appears to be little hope a deal can be reached.

Although the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe has dropped dramatically since 2015, the issue remains deeply divisive.

The two-day meeting, which will also address eurozone reform, promises to be “one of the most difficult the bloc has held for many years” says Tony Barber, Europe editor at the Financial Times.

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What solutions are being suggested?

The EU Commission has proposed setting up “regional disembarkation platforms” in North Africa, where agencies could screen those who have a genuine claim to asylum in Europe, the BBC reports.

“Those not eligible would be offered help to resettle in their home countries,” it says.

This has been backed by France and Italy, but Human Rights Watch has condemned the plan, warning that it would deflect responsibility onto countries outside the EU with less capacity to process claims and protect refugees and migrants.

EU leaders “should be guided by the compass of rights and firmly reject offshore processing, which Australia has shown to be a recipe for abuse and despair,” says Judith Sunderland, the organisation’s associate Europe and Central Asia director.

The group proposes setting up a regional disembarkation agreement among EU countries instead, where fair and humane treatment for all migrants would be guaranteed.

Meanwhile, Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister and head of the new populist, anti-immigration government, has gone even further by calling for the Dublin regulation to be overhauled.

Under the current law, asylum seekers must be registered in the EU country in which they arrive, which critics claim places an unfair burden on southern European countries.

Conte’s government has effectively closed its ports to foreign ships carrying refugees and migrants, leaving them stranded at sea until other EU states have agreed to accept them.

Why do divisions run so deep?

There is huge disagreement among member states over how much responsibility each nation should take for migrants and refugees.

Germany – and to a certain extent France and Spain - are seeking a Europe-wide solution that protects Europe’s Schengen passport-free zone and the Dublin regulation, The Guardian reports. “Italy, however, is unlikely to play ball: the last thing [it] wants is to take migrants back who have already left.”

The debate is further complicated by Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which have refused to take in asylum seekers under any EU plan and want “no more discussion of such schemes,” the newspaper adds.

Experts agree that any agreement beyond simply increasing border patrols appears highly unlikely.

“This issue is once again showing the weakness of the EU when it comes to sensible, common decisions to take in the field of security, solidarity and cooperation versus national interest,” Stefano Torelli, a researcher at the Institute for International Political Studies in Milan, told Al Jazeera.

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