EU leaders were gearing up Wednesday for migration talks that were expected to be hostile after a decision to push through a refugee relocation scheme despite the opposition of four member states.
Europe is contending with its most significant influx of migrants and refugees since World War II with many people fleeing war-torn nations and qualifying for international protection.
But the EU has struggled to find a convincing response to the crisis.
The bloc’s disunity was further stoked by a majority decision on Tuesday to push through a scheme to redistribute 120,000 asylum seekers throughout the bloc – overruling the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia – when the EU usually strives for consensus decisions.
Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said his country would not “respect this diktat” while his Czech counterpart, Bohuslav Sobotka, said the redistribution scheme would not work.
“This is just a sop to the public in the countries that have become the target of this migration flux,” he said, adding that it would not help solve the root causes of the problem.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Wednesday urged member states to show a united front, warning in the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that divisions within the bloc “badly weaken our credibility” towards the outside world.
As of Tuesday, just under 482,000 migrants had reached the continent by sea this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Nearly 40 per cent of them were Syrians, the intergovernmental organization said.
Summit organizers are keen to keep the redistribution fight off Wednesday’s agenda, focusing it instead on broader migration issues, such as border protection and aid for countries outside the EU that have also had to grapple with large numbers of refugees.
The bloc could reallocate up to 1 billion euros (1.2 billion dollars) to help Turkey cope with the Syrian refugees it has taken in, EU Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn said.
The hope is that working to improve the conditions of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries would prevent them from undertaking the perilous journey to Europe.
Improving border controls should also help separate genuine refugees from economic migrants, who do not qualify for international protection.
The Catholic aid agency Caritas called on Europe to show greater solidarity towards the “relatively low” number of people arriving on its shores.
“[The] people arriving are just a drop in the ocean of [the EU’s] 500 million citizens,” said Shannon Pfohman of Caritas. “Europe is one of the wealthiest regions of the world, which makes this situation even more absurd.”