Last Thursday 15 October, EU leaders met in Brussels to hold a regular meeting of the European Council, the top EU strategic-political body. The summit scheduled originally for 2 days full days (Thursday, Friday) was wrapped up around midnight, after only an afternoon/evening of negotiations. Naturally, the primary focus was migration. The conclusions of the meeting show progress in 3 axes of action to tackle the crisis.
Firstly, cooperation with neighboring, transit countries and countries of origin is key to limiting the number of people reaching EU´s shores. This includes discussions and cooperation with the Balkans, with a High Level Conference having taken place recently, and certain African countries, with a summit of EU and certain African leaders scheduled for November in Valletta, Malta. It includes also financial contributions to multilateral efforts to help refugees, including to UN agencies. But key to the question is Turkey. The EU leaders endorsed politically the work carried out by the Commission, which jointly with Turkey prepared a Joint Plan of Action to tackle migration. Commission President Juncker and Turkish President Erdogan agreed to the plan in principle recently, with detailed negotiations being underway. According to the plan, Turkey would adopt measures on its borders, as well in its migration policy, that would lessen the incentives of Syrian refugees present in Turkey to start their journey to the EU. This includes strengthening the protection of Turkey´s borders, as well as providing better healthcare, education and possibly work permits for Syrian refugees in Turkey. In return, the EU would bear part of Turkish costs for these actions. The EU leaders endorsed a sum of up to €3 billion. To provide further political incentives for Turkey to cooperate, the EU promised progress in visa liberalization talks, as well as in gridlocked EU accession negotiations (Turkey has candidate status for EU membership).
The second axis of action is protection of borders. The EU presidents and prime ministers endorsed politically the plan to work towards shared border protection. In the first step, this means strengthening Frontex both in terms of finance and personnel, as well as mandate. Later on, this process would lead to the establishment of a common border and coast management agency.
Thirdly, the EU summit called for full implementation of agreed intra-EU measures such as relocation mechanisms and returns policy. Returns should be made more effective by giving Frontex the competence to assist in their organization. Also, negotiations with partner countries should be initiated to make returns as effective as possible – possible incentives should also be found via development assistance (the Cotonou Partnership countries, for example, would be eligible for more assistance,if they cooperated with the EU on migration). On the other hand, though, there is no word on the permanent refugee relocation mechanism. It was reported that several countries, notably Germany and Sweden, asked for the mechanism to be included in the conclusions as a longer-term goal. But Central European countries refused to endorse it. Even temporary relocations are highly controversial in the V4 countries and permanent schemes seem to be a deal-breaker at this point.
The EU summit also commented on the developments in Libya and Syria. On Libya, the EU leaders endorsed the reportedly reached deal on a national unity government that would end the civil war. They made clear, that once the process is initiated, the EU would contribute financially to the process. On Syria, the leaders made an unusually clear statement. The EU is worried by the proceedings of Russia in Syria. Also, the EU blames the dictator Bashar al-Assad for the majority of the conflict´s civilian victims and therefore finds him unsuitable to take part in a long-term solution. This is a compromise wording, since France called for a stricter formulation - calling for Assad´s exclusion from any peace process, while Germany pushing for Assad to be part of the dialogue in the beginning and later on stepping down in favor of a national unity government.
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