Asylum seekers: discussions blocked in Brussels by Hungary and Poland

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, at odds with Poland against European asylum reform, on Friday justified the blocking of discussions at the European summit in Brussels in the name of a “fight for freedom”.

Two false notes in the European concert. The subject of migration has returned to crystallize tensions at the EU summit, where Polish and Hungarian leaders are blocking discussions and challenging a system of solidarity between the Twenty-Seven in the care of asylum seekers.

European heads of state and government resumed discussions on the highly sensitive issue on Friday morning after breaking up overnight, at around 1.30am local time, without reaching an agreement.

“We worked through the night to try to break the deadlock,” an EU official said.

Member States could abandon agreeing on joint conclusions on migration at the end of the summit. The final text could instead contain the conclusions of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, who would therefore not speak on behalf of the Twenty-Seven.

“A fight for freedom”, according to Budapest

“This is a fight for freedom, not a rebellion,” said nationalist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Hungary and Poland oppose an agreement reached by qualified majority on June 8 between EU interior ministers, which notably provides for a system of mandatory but “flexible” solidarity between EU countries in caring for asylum seekers, a breakthrough on a case, that has been blocked for years.

“Unacceptable”, for Viktor Orban: “We had agreed on several occasions in the past that since the issue of migration divides us deeply, we could only accept a rule if we all agree, that is, if there is a unanimous decision. ” he added.

The same story from the side of the Polish leader Mateusz Morawiecki: “Some countries want to switch to the forced reception of migrants. I asked that it be written in the conclusions that this process should be voluntary, and not mandatory,” he said , when he arrived on the second day of the summit.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said there was “a lot of bitterness left in the migration debates of 2015” but that we now had to “move on”.

“We must focus on how to reduce migration pressure”, she continued, and believed that the “external dimension”, that is cooperation with the migrants’ countries of origin and transit, was a consensus topic.

But the issue of the distribution of asylum seekers arriving in the EU remains a subject of tension for Poland and Hungary, which had already rejected the refugee quotas decided after the 2015-2016 crisis.

Receive or pay

The agreement reached on June 18 in Luxembourg, which is still provisional because it must be negotiated with the European Parliament, stipulates that member states must welcome a certain number of applicants arriving in an EU country who are subjected to migratory pressure, or fails to make a financial contribution, equivalent to 20,000 euros for each refugee who is not relocated.

The agreement also obliges member states to set up centers at the EU’s external borders (especially at land borders or at airports) for migrants who have a low statistical chance of being granted asylum, in order to facilitate their return to their country of origin.

Poland and Hungary voted against the proposal, while four countries abstained. The Swedish presidency of the EU Council had decided to opt for qualified majority voting (which requires a vote of 15 countries out of 27 representing at least 65% of the total EU population), as provided for in migration treaties.

The text had been adopted after concessions to Italy in particular, and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is now determined to preserve this compromise. No other country intends to go back to it.

Warsaw, like Budapest, relies on previous conclusions from European summits to require decisions on such a sensitive issue to be taken unanimously. She will also mention “the sovereign right of member states to define their migration policy and decide who they accept on their territory,” according to a proposal seen by AFP.

Poland, which currently hosts more than a million Ukrainian refugees who fled their country after the Russian invasion in February 2022, has also asked for additional funds.


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