GRANADA, Spain — A gathering of EU leaders ended in a semi-flop when Poland and Hungary forced delegates to drop a passage summing up the countries’ views on migration from a declaration that diplomats had been working on for weeks.
The last-minute row over migration came a day after another summit — this time of the European Political Community in Granada — was fraught with upsets as leaders failed to advance on resolving regional crises in the Southern Caucasus and Western Balkans. And after the British prime minister hustled a side event on migration before leaving the summit, host country Spain cancelled the planned press conference at the EPC Thursday.
At the end of Friday’s EU summit, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who faces a parliamentary election on October 15, took responsibility for strong-arming fellow leaders. “I expressed our position very strongly in the plenary and decided to veto the part of the bill that concerned migration,” he wrote on social media.
Hungary’s Viktor Orbán was particularly incendiary, saying Poland and Hungary were “pushed” by other EU members to sign off on an EU migration reform plan earlier this week but would not endorse any compromise position in Granada. “After this, there is no chance to have any kind of compromise and agreement on migration … because legally we are raped. If you are raped, legally, forced to accept something you don’t like, how would you like to have a compromise and an agreement? It’s impossible,” he said earlier in the day.
But leaders at the EU summit put a brave face on the political hijacking.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the dispute over migration wasn’t that “big” and boiled down to domestic policy issues in Poland and Hungary. “There are elections in Poland in a week’s time, and Viktor Orbán likes to create some upheaval and bedlam,” he said, adding that the migration deal was in their interest as it “increases control on outer borders.”
Seeking ways to bring down the number of refugees and migrants arriving illegally in Europe was high on the agenda at the summit of European leaders in Granada. Migration remains a key concern for the bloc, especially ahead of European elections next year and amid rising populism that frequently stokes anti-immigrant rhetoric.
After months of deadlock, EU members agreed Wednesday on the final part of a migration deal that would toughen measures against illegal migration and introduce an agreement to distribute arriving migrants among EU members.
Talking about enlargement
Despite the row on migration, the 27 leaders reached an agreement on the rest of the declaration which included a passage about EU enlargement, a day after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and several other leaders of EU candidate countries took part in the summit of the European Political Community.
The statement read that “enlargement is a geostrategic investment in peace, security and prosperity” but made no reference to specific countries such as Ukraine seeking to join the EU. A key request of the French and the Germans, the statement made reference to “reforms” that would be needed to prepare for new joiners.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pushed to revamp how the EU takes decisions, saying “we need important decisions with only a qualified majority” rather than through unanimity of all EU leaders — which sometimes leads to just a few countries blocking the rest like on migration at Friday’s summit.
EU leaders held talks on Friday morning about strategic autonomy and enlargement, its timeframe and what reforms would be needed if Ukraine, Moldova and others were to join the union.
French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that “a consensus” was building over the “geopolitical transformation of Europe.”
“We need to move more quickly. There was no decision taken — some are against, others are in favor of a very conventional [accession] process,” said Macron.
At the closing press conference of the summit, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen advocated for enlargement as a win-win, that’s both “beneficial to the country that joined the EU” and to “the EU to a wide extent.”