EU summit boosts refugee aid as leaders spar over borders

By JAMES G. NEUGER, EDITH BALAZS AND KARL STAGNO NAVARRA | Bloomberg | Published: September 24, 2015

BRUSSELS — European Union leaders vowed to boost humanitarian aid in response to the escalating refugee crisis after a summit that left them divided over how to police the bloc's frontiers.

After weeks of what President Donald Tusk described as "recriminations" and "chaos" over migrant quotas, internal passport checks and external border fences, the leaders of the 28-nation bloc continued to struggle toward a joint response.

Common border defenses are "new and controversial, it's also about sovereignty," Tusk told reporters early Thursday after the meeting in Brussels. "The greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come, therefore we need to correct the policy of open doors and windows."

Some summit pledges will kick in immediately, like an increase in financial and food aid for Middle Eastern refugee camps; others were recycled, such as a promise to set up registration centers on European soil, now due by late November; and still others were beyond the EU's control, like an appeal for an international effort to end Syria's civil war.

The summit was the EU's third top-level migration strategy session this year, each time with the scale of the problem increasing. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann drew a parallel with the bloc's hesitant response to the euro debt crisis, saying: "We prevented the collapse of the banks, now we have to prevent the collapse of humanity in Europe."

Refugees pose a global challenge requiring international efforts, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers Thursday in the Bundestag in a speech outlining the results of the EU summit.

"The sooner these challenges are tackled at the national, European and global level, the faster they'll be resolved," she said.

A hard-fought accord this month to resettle 160,000 refugees according to national quotas showed what the EU is up against. No sooner was it struck than the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development forecast that the influx into Europe will reach 1 million in 2015 and stay around that level for years.

Better border management remained controversial, especially on the sea routes into Greece on the EU's southeastern flank that have become the main path for Europe-bound refugees from Syria, Iraq and parts of Africa. Debt-hobbled Greece has let many move on, stirring tensions with countries further north.

Leaders reacted with what Tusk called "maybe not enthusiasm" to the idea of putting frontier control in the hands of an EU agency. Still, the European Commission said it will make a proposal by year-end for a European Border and Coast Guard.

The prime advocate of border barriers, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said the failure to reinforce Europe's defenses betrayed a lack of "courage." Orban has built a fence and sent in the military to seal off Hungary's border with Serbia.

"We made no headway on a joint European defense of the Greek border," Orban said. "This was our most important proposal and after tonight, Europe's external borders remain undefended. There wasn't enough determination."

EU officials said the mood was businesslike and constructive, moving beyond the acrimony that peaked Tuesday when wealthier western European countries forced through the refugee-resettlement quotas over opposition from Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker spoke of a "better-than-expected atmosphere." Germany's Merkel -- criticized by eastern states for an open-door attitude toward migrants -- said "there are points of consensus, but also differences" with Hungary.

EU plans also call for expedited deportations and aid for poorer, migrant-swamped countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The bloc pledged an additional $1.1 billion for United Nations refugee-relief efforts and the World Food Program.

EU leaders called for a renewed UN-led effort to end the civil war in Syria.

"We will have to talk with many actors," Merkel said after the summit. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "will be part of that, but also others like the United States and Russia as well as important regional partners like Iran or Saudi Arabia."


With assistance from Gregory Viscusi, Eddie Buckle, Jonathan Stearns, Ian Wishart, Ewa Krukowska and Arne Delfs in Brussels.