Poland and Hungary clash with EU over migration reformFri, 06 Oct 2023 17:35:59 GMT

A row over planned changes to Europe’s migration rules overshadowed an EU summit Friday, although supporters of the reform vowed opposition from Poland and Hungary would not derail it.The Polish and Hungarian leaders did prevent the leaders from including migration in a joint statement of the summit’s conclusions, causing the meeting to end on a sour note.That forced European Council president Charles Michel to issue a separate statement in his name about asylum policy and border protection, and the French and German leaders said the legislative process on the issue would continue as planned.Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who hosted the summit in Granada, dismissed concerns about the clash. “The most important thing is what our interior ministers achieved a few weeks ago with the agreement on crisis regulation, because that is what is really relevant in political terms,” he said. But the gathering did hand Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who is facing a general election this weekend, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban a stage on which to brandish populist credentials for their domestic audiences.Morawiecki boasted that his “veto” on a joint statement on migration “meant that this process will not proceed… and Poland has a chance to stop it”.He said the “illegal migration… disease has been plaguing Europe for years.”Earlier, Orban claimed Hungary had been “legally raped” by the EU moving ahead with legislation on reformed migration policies on the basis that a weighted majority of countries back it.Poland and Hungary are demanding a right to veto the measures, which are aimed at sharing out responsibilities for arriving asylum seekers across all bloc countries. France’s President Emmanuel Macron said although their opposition blocked any mention of migration in the final declaration, it would have no effect on the proposed bill, which was approved in outline form by member states on Wednesday. “The text has caused disagreements between several member states,” Macron acknowledged.But he dismissed the lack of a joint statement on it as “a secondary issue because the matter is moving forward as it should after being passed by majority”.- ‘Current approach not working’ -Migration surged to the top of Brussels’ agenda after thousands of asylum seekers landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa in recent months, highlighting the urgency of a unified European response. On Thursday, leaders from across the continent met in the same Granada venue in a broader, continental format, as the European Political Community (EPC), to develop common geopolitical strategy. But Spain, which hosted both meetings, failed to put migration on that summit’s agenda, frustrating several members, notably Italy and Britain which convened a side meeting on the issue. During those sideline talks, Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni and Britain’s Rishi Sunak, backed by France and the Netherlands, pushed for more work with third countries to prevent boats carrying asylum seekers from even setting off for Europe.In an op-ed published on Friday in Britain’s Times newspaper and Italy’s Corrierre della Sera, the pair said European nations recognised “the current approach is not working”. Insisting their approach was “already delivering results,” they urged other leaders to “act with the same sense of urgency” against people-smuggling gangs to slow irregular immigration.Wednesday’s EU vote on migration reform saw member states approving a final component of an overhaul of the rules on handling asylum seekers and irregular migrants, setting up a push for the European Parliament to make it law before elections next June. The EU’s new Pact on Migration and Asylum will seek to relieve pressure on so-called frontline countries like Italy and Greece by relocating some arrivals to other EU states. Those opposed to hosting asylum seekers would be required to pay those that do. Meloni, who clashed with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the run up to the summit, said she was now “satisfied” with the direction Europe was heading, being “more pragmatic” in its approach to halting human trafficking and illegal immigration.Scholz, speaking after the summit, echoed that a “very pragmatic agreement” had been reached after “intensive” discussions.EU figures published on Friday showed there was a 29-percent rise in irregular migrant returns in the second quarter of 2023 compared to the same period a year earlier. alm/hmw/rmb/db