GRANADA, Spain, Oct 6 (Reuters) – Poland accused Berlin and Brussels of imposing immigration “dictations” on the European Union, and Hungary said the bloc was imposing a deal as EU leaders meet to address the growing number of migrants from the Middle East. East and Africa.
The European Union summit in the Spanish city of Granada seeks to find ways to reduce the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe outside normal border crossings, which is a matter of particular concern to Italy, Spain and Germany.
But the bloc remains at odds over how to share the task of supporting those who make the journey. A long-stalled agreement was reached between member states last week despite opposition from populist governments in Poland and Hungary.
The top immigration official in the European Union, which has a membership of 450 million people, said last week that there were 250,000 illegal arrivals so far this year, far fewer than in 2015, when more than a million people crossed the sea, sweeping the bloc over.
But the matter is politically sensitive, and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are on the rise in some European Union countries ahead of the continent-wide European Parliament elections next June.
Upon his arrival at the talks, Hungarian anti-immigration leader Viktor Orban said consensus on immigration was impossible because the EU had left Hungary and Poland out of the agreement.
“If you are forced to accept something you do not like, how do you want to reach a settlement and an agreement? This is impossible,” Orban told reporters.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has complained that the European Union is forcing his country to accept illegal immigrants or face fines.
He said, “I will say before the session today that Poland categorically rejects this, first and foremost because of the security of our country.”
On Wednesday, 22 European Union countries concluded an agreement on how to deal with illegal immigration in times of exceptionally high numbers of arrivals, and took a step towards reforming the bloc’s asylum and immigration rules.
The agreement must now be negotiated further with the European Parliament. Although Poland and Hungary cannot formally block it, their strong opposition raises questions about the effectiveness of implementing any final agreement.
Italy and Spain have expressed concern about a surge in arrivals by sea this year, while Greek waters in June were the site of Europe’s deadliest shipwreck in years, killing hundreds of migrants.
Since the end of the week, more than a thousand migrants have arrived on the small island of El Hierro in the Spanish Canary Islands, which has a population of 11,000.
Germany, the preferred destination for many migrants arriving in Europe, has implemented border checks, saying they are necessary to crack down on people smugglers.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc needs to address the root causes of migration by helping countries of origin address poverty and empower women.
“The European Union must present a common position,” Borrell said. He added, “It seems that there is finally agreement on that. Today we can certainly agree on a common foreign and security policy.”
Germany recorded a nearly 80% rise in asylum applications this year, which raises concerns for the center-left ruling coalition ahead of regional elections in the states of Bavaria and Hesse on October 8.
Neighboring Poland will hold national elections a week later, on October 15.
Warsaw and Budapest refuse to host arrivals from the Mediterranean, although Poland has provided shelter to several million Ukrainians who fled the Russian invasion in February 2022.
Other central and eastern EU countries have also imposed border controls within what is usually considered an open travel zone, citing the need to crack down on people smugglers and migrants who avoid border crossings and normal arrival procedures.
European Parliament President Roberta Mizzola said the EU has a realistic chance of reaching a deal on migration – albeit without consensus – for the first time in nearly a decade after the bloc’s asylum and migration system collapsed in 2015.
“One election after another, immigration is at the top of our citizens’ concerns,” she said. “There is no silver bullet, but let’s not kill this agreement before we adopt it. I think we owe it to our citizens.”
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Maren Strauss and Inti Landoro in Granada – Prepared by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) Writing by Charlie Devereaux. Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Nick Macfie
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