EU leaders fail to resolve migration dispute with Poland and Hungary

EU leaders failed to resolve a bitter dispute on reform of the bloc’s migration rules after Poland and Hungary refused to back down in their standoff with the 25 other EU leaders. 

Earlier this month, EU home affairs ministers voted by a qualified majority to introduce mandatory relocation of migrants, with countries unwilling to host them being required to pay a fee of €20,000 for each migrant. Hungary and Poland opposed the agreement. 

In a press conference following the conclusion of the summit, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described the agreement among home affairs ministers as “a watershed moment”. 

However, in angry exchanges at the European Council summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday (29/30 June), the two Visegrad countries argued that any EU system on migration relocations should be voluntary and say that they will refuse to pay the €20,000 fines. They also complained that the draft laws in question should have been subject to unanimity among EU member states rather than a qualified majority which allowed them to be outvoted. 

“Commissioner Johansson said that the process is not obligatory but voluntary. But when I asked yesterday to have it included in the conclusions I heard it is not possible,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. 

However, Luxembourg premier Xavier Bettel retorted by accusing Poland and Hungary of refusing to respect the EU treaties. 

While EU leaders agreed that the bloc must have migration processes in place ahead of refugees’ and migrants’ arrival in the EU, the stand-off with Hungary and Poland could not be resolved. 

In the end, EU leaders stripped migration out of the post-summit conclusions, stating only that they welcomed the €1 billion ‘cash for migrant control’ agreement between the bloc and Tunisia and supported “the resumption of political dialogue in the context of the EU-Tunisia Association Agreement”. 

“It underlines the importance of strengthening and developing similar strategic partnerships between the European Union and partners in the region,” leaders added. 

In an unusual move, European Council President Charles Michel published his own post-summit communique on the migration discussions, which referenced the complaints by Warsaw and Budapest. 

The Michel text stated that “there is a need to find consensus on an effective migration and asylum policy” and that “in the context of solidarity measures, relocation and resettlement should be on a voluntary basis and that all forms of solidarity should be considered equally valid and not serve as a potential pull factor for irregular migration.” 

Although Poland and Hungary cannot block the legislation on immigration and asylum, on which EU diplomats say that agreement with the European Parliament is likely to be reached in autumn, there are other unresolved files on migration policy reform that they could oppose. 

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]


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