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Ian Traynor in Brussels, Thursday 24 September 2015, The Guardian
Emergency talks end with pledge of hundreds of millions of euros to help transit countries as European Council president says greatest challenge is yet to come
European heads of government met in Brussels on Wednesday night in an attempt to bury months of mutual mudslinging over the EU’s biggest ever refugee crisis, but failed to come up with common policies amid signs they were unable to contain and manage the migration emergency.
The emergency Brussels summit decided little but to throw money at aid agencies and transit countries hosting millions of Syrian refugees and to step up the identification and finger-printing of refugees in Italy and Greece by November.
Calls for European forces to take control of Greece’s borders – the main entry point to the European Union from the Middle East – fell on deaf ears. The summit’s chairman delivered coded criticism of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and of the European Commission while warning that the refugee crisis would get much worse before it might get better.
Turkey, which is the main source of Syrians trying to move to Germany, was recognised as the lynchpin of any strategy for containing the crisis and it emerged that Ankara was demanding a high price for its cooperation.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council who chaired the summit, warned: “The greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come.” In a barb directed at Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, Tusk added: “We need to correct our policy of open doors and windows.”
The summit pitted the governments of central Europe against Germany and France after Berlin and Paris on Tuesday forced a new system of imposed refugee quotas on a recalcitrant east. There was talk of boycotts and threats to take the issue to court from the Czechs and Slovaks.
The EU’s most robust anti-immigration hardliner, Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, warned Merkel, against any “moral imperialism”. He argued that Greece was incapable of securing its borders with Turkey and that the job should be given to a pan-European force. He admitted he got no support, adding that he was left with two options – retaining the razorwire fences he has built on the borders with Serbia and Croatia or sending any refugees who enter Hungary straight through to Austria. The Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, replied that he should send the refugees through and take down the fence.
Merkel said: “Setting up fences between members states is not the solution.” “The conditions for a comprehensive solution are not yet in place.” Merkel singled out Turkey as the key to a crisis management strategy and Juncker said the fund-raising would include a billion euros for Ankara. But Tusk, just returned from Turkey, said money “is not the big problem. It is not as easy as expected.”
Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish prime minister, wrote to the EU leaders on Wednesday demanding bold concessions from the Europeans as the price for Turkey’s possible cooperation. He proposed EU and US support for a buffer and no-fly zone in northern Syria by the Turkish border, measuring 80km by 40km.
This would stymy the Kurdish militias fighting Islamic State in northern Syria and would also enable Ankara to start repatriating some of the estimated 2 million Syrian refugees it is hosting. The militias are allied with the Kurdistan workers’ party (PKK) guerrillas at war with the Turkish state for most of the past 30 years. Ankara reignited the conflict in July after the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority in a general election.
“There are many people who doubt the sincerity of their motives,” said a senior EU official. “They’re not offering too much.”
One incentive for Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, would be relaxed visa requirements for Turks going to Europe, but Europeans, especially east European governments resorting to anti-Muslim rhetoric, could balk at this.
Merkel said: “Solving problems of [the EU] external borders is not possible without working with Turkey.”
Seldom had EU leaders met so divided. And seldom have the stakes been higher in the need to forge common positions to cope with the crisis and to limit the damage from months of blame games. The main aim was to cool tempers and try to strike a consensus on what to do. The results were inconclusive and the same issues will dominate yet another summit in three weeks.
“We have reached a critical point where we need to end the cycle of mutual recriminations and misunderstandings,” said Tusk. “We are facing brutal reality,” said a senior EU diplomat.
The Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians and Romanians are deeply indignant at being outvoted on one of the biggest, most toxic, issues in national politics in Europe. Immigration has the potential to make or break governments, and will probably contribute to a change of government in Poland next month. Warsaw broke with its central European allies to vote with the majority on Tuesday, forcing through mechanisms for taking in 120,000 refugees from Italy and Greece.
But Poland’s nationalist right is tipped to unseat the mainstream conservatives in next month’s election. The likely new prime minister, Beata Szydło, denounced the Polish decision as a scandal, saying her government would reverse it.
The summit focused on “Fortress Europe” measures to try to stem the flow of people. Almost half a million have arrived in Europe this year. The EU chequebook was the key instrument, with the leaders pledging hundreds of millions for the transit countries and the international aid agencies, and up to €1bn (£730m) for Turkey.
David Cameron committed to spending another £100m supporting refugees in camps bordering Syria. In Brussels he said £40m of the additional cash would go to support the World Food Programme. An aim was to deter people making the “very dangerous” journey to Europe.