- Morawiecki and Orban block a symbolic EU statement on migration
- Other leaders say majority reform will go ahead anyway
- Disagreements over immigration affect bloc unity
GRANADA, Spain (Reuters) – Poland and Hungary blocked a symbolic European Union statement on migration on Friday, but other leaders meeting at a summit in Spain said they were continuing to reform the bloc’s rules for dealing with illegal arrivals anyway.
About 250,000 people have arrived so far this year through regular border crossings into the European Union, which has a population of 450 million people.
Rome, Madrid and Berlin expressed concern about the increase in illegal immigration, which is a politically sensitive issue ahead of regional elections in Germany on October 8, national elections in Poland a week later, and continental parliamentary elections next June.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused Germany and the Polish opposition leader of cooperating to push new European Union laws that impose fines on countries if they refuse to host arrivals from the Middle East and Africa.
“Poland does not approve of someone else furnishing our house,” Morawiecki said.
His ally and anti-immigration leader of Hungary, Viktor Orban, also accused the European Union of imposing a new migration deal.
Among the EU’s 27 member states, 22 agreed this week on how to deal with illegal migration in times of exceptionally high numbers of arrivals, taking a step towards reforming the bloc’s ineffective asylum and immigration rules.
The European Parliament must continue to negotiate the agreement, something the bloc’s chief executive said on Friday she was confident would reach a final agreement.
“We can talk a lot about it, but it is on its way now,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
He added, “Migration has always existed and will always exist. The question is how we manage it as Team Europe… We cannot accept what people smugglers do and we cannot allow them to decide who can reach the European Union.”
Although Poland and Hungary cannot block the new EU migration deal and their opposition on Friday was largely symbolic, their harsh criticism raises questions about how effective the bloc is in implementing the agreement.
“Election after election, migration is at the top of our citizens’ concerns,” said European Parliament President Roberta Mizzola, who was also present at the summit. “There is no silver bullet, but let’s not kill this agreement before we embrace it.”
The European Union has tightened external border and asylum laws since more than a million people – most of them fleeing the war in Syria – arrived across the Mediterranean in 2015.
This caught the EU by surprise, burdened the security and reception capacity of southern member states, as well as wealthy destination countries such as Germany, and sparked bitter disputes among the 27 countries over how to distribute the new arrivals.
Years of disagreements over immigration have damaged the bloc’s unity, and the row that erupted on Friday suggests the matter is far from over – with or without a deal.
Last month, Germany imposed border checks with its European Union counterparts, saying they were necessary to crack down on people smugglers amid rising numbers of irregular arrivals again.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Friday that the countries pushing the strongest anti-immigration lines cannot at the same time allow refugees and migrants to cross into Germany without registering and properly hosting them on their territory first.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Maren Strauss, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Inti Landoro, Andrei Khalip, Gianluca Semeraro, David Latona, Bart Meijer, Andreas Reinke, Andrew Gray and Belén Carino) Writing by Charlie Devereaux and Gabriela Baczynska. Edited by Josie Kao
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