Italy, Greece Face Off Against Easterners In Eu Migration Feud
The European Union's tug of war over how to share out the burden of caring for asylum-seekers is not over, Slovakia's interior minister said after six months of trying unsuccessfully to bridge differences between member states.
Central and Eastern European governments opposed to taking in refugees are at loggerheads with countries on the frontline of the crisis such as Greece and Italy. Nearly all the 350,000 migrants to reach Europe's shores this year have arrived in those two countries.
"What is very important is the difference between the positions of the countries from last year. You know that last year positions were quite extreme, we had two poles. Now most of the countries are somewhere in the middle and we have one good agreement with upcoming presidency, with Carmelo Abela, that we need to work more with our colleagues from Poland and Hungary and also with Italy and the Greek side and I hope that we will find a common solution in the next weeks and next months," Slovak minister Robert Kalinak said as he arrived in Brussels to chair the last meeting of EU interior ministers under his country's presidency of the bloc.
The uncontrolled arrival of some 1.4 million refugees and migrants in the past two years, many fleeing conflicts such as Syria's civil war, has triggered bitter EU infighting over how to handle them.
"We are not there yet but as I said before it is very important to adopt a common policy. We don't know what the future is reserving for Europe and all member states must be well prepared for that by having a common European asylum policy. Something that was not existing before. If we had a common asylum system two years ago we would not have to be confronted with such a huge crisis and pressure," the bloc's migration chief, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said on arriving at the meeting.
The differences center on how countries far from the main migration routes should help their frontline peers like the Greeks and Italians.
Germany, Sweden and Austria, the wealthiest countries and destinations of choice, also want some sort of permanent relocation scheme to share people out more evenly.
But eastern EU states including Poland, Slovakia and Hungary have refused to take in any asylum-seekers, saying admitting Muslims would distort the traditional makeup of their societies. They refuse to be told what to do by Brussels, which has led efforts to impose relocation quotas.
Italy has raged against the easterners and threatened to block any further work on EU budgets, which normally provide billions of euros of funds to Poland and its neighbors to allow the ex-communist states to catch up with their western peers.
Ministers will discuss the contentious problem but there is little sign they will be able to overcome their divisions.