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EU More Unified on Borders, But Migrant Divisions Remain

December 16, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders ended a summit on Friday deeply divided over how to handle tens of thousands of desperate people stuck in camps in Italy and Greece, with an eastern bloc of nations boasting it was resisting pleas to take in refugees in a “battle” with other EU member states.

EU Council leader Donald Tusk put migration at the top of the agenda by circulating a note ahead of time that declared the bloc’s mandatory relocation scheme for refugees both ineffective and “highly divisive.”

It proved a catalyst for high emotions and debate, pitting countries who refuse to take in refugees against countries who have borne the brunt of the huge influx of people who arrived in Europe in 2015, many seeking shelter from war. Among those are Italy and Greece, where most migrants come ashore, and Germany and other Western countries who have absorbed the bulk of the new arrivals.

Hungarian Viktor Orban, who built razor wire fences in 2015 to keep migrants out of his country and who is the most prominent anti-migrant voice in the European debate, used war metaphors — and plenty of hyperbole — to describe a debate over dinner Thursday night.

In a Facebook video subtitled in English and posted after midnight, Viktor Orban, smiling, said: “It’s 12:40 a.m. We struggled with each other till now. It was close combat, a type of political close combat.”

He said that the Poles, Hungarians, Czechs and Slovaks “did well in battle” against those wanting them to take in more refugees. “We held on to our positions, but we could not convince our adversaries,” Orban said.

On the other side of the emotional divide, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who is Greek, earlier this week called Tusk’s original note “anti-European” and said it violated the European principle of solidarity.

Tusk expressed satisfaction that his note helped all sides hash the matter out, even though he also acknowledged that with such deep divisions any kind of eventual solution to relocating Syrians, Iraqis and others who are already on the continent seems elusive.

“Mandatory quotas have remained a contentious issue, even though its temperature has decreased considerably. If only for this reason it was worth raising this topic,” Tusk said. “Will a compromise be possible? It appears very hard, but we have to try our very best.”

On Thursday, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia announced that they planned to spend around 35 million euros ($41 million) to beef up EU borders. But still they were criticized for failing to show solidarity with the rest of the bloc by giving no ground on migrant relocation.

VANESSA GERA, Associated Press

LORNE COOK, Associated Press
VANESSA GERA, Associated Press

Raf Casert contributed.

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