quinta-feira, 18 de fevereiro de 2016
Austrian migrant cap bogs down EU summit
Austrian migrant cap bogs down EU summit
Vienna goes it alone as EU leaders hold marathon migration talks.
By JACOPO BARIGAZZI AND BARBARA SURK 2/19/16, 12:42 AM CET Updated 2/19/16, 4:05 AM CET
After a lengthy and heated debate on migration, European leaders agreed Friday that Turkey remains key to an EU plan to tackle what has become the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.
European Council President Donald Tusk set another migration summit for early March with Turkey as its star guest.
“We agreed that our joint action plan with Turkey remains a priority, and we must do all we can to succeed,” he said. “This is why we have the intention to organize a special meeting with Turkey in the beginning of March.”
But Austria was not willing to wait another day for a common EU solution.
Before European leaders sat down to eat Thursday, Austria ruined everyone’s appetite by announcing a cap on asylum-seekers — and defiantly sticking to its guns throughout a six-hour dinner, despite fierce criticism from fellow European leaders at the dinner table.
The EU migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, told Vienna its decision to limit the number of asylum applications it is ready to accept was illegal and “plainly incompatible with Austria’s obligations” under EU and international law.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann tried to put a brave face on the onslaught at dinner, telling reporters “there was both criticism and understanding” at the table. He said he backed up his argument with simple math. “I made it clear, if everyone took as much as Austria is willing to, 37,500,” that would be over a million per year, Faymann said.
He argued that order was breaking down under the weight of the more than 90,000 people who claimed asylum in Austria last year and the hundreds more who have done so since the start of 2016.
Thousands more transit each day through Austria, which is on the Balkan route to Germany and other European states in the north, so Vienna decided to consult its own lawyers to find a way to cope.
“Legal opinions will be answered by lawyers. Politically I say: We’ll stick to it,” Faymann told reporters at the summit, where EU leaders hoped to reach consensus on dealing with the migration crisis. “It’s unimaginable Austria would accept all refugees.”
The problem of redistributing refugees across EU countries was also a topic during the summit dinner when leaders discussed migration. Italy’s Matteo Renzi warned Eastern European countries that if they are not ready to show solidarity in taking migrants, then Western EU countries could show less solidarity in distributing money across the bloc, said one diplomat.
In addition to the cap on asylum-seekers, Austria will limit the number of migrants entering the country to 3,200 a day, starting Friday, according to Johanna Mikl-Leitner, the country’s interior minister.
Austria got some support from its southern neighbor on the Balkan route, Slovenia, despite a risk that Vienna’s ever tighter controls of its border could result in a backlog further south, in Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia.
But in the conclusions the leaders called for an end to “uncoordinated measures along the route” — a sentence that was added after the discussion at dinner about Austria; a discussion described by a EU official who was in the room as “frank but constructive.”
The possibility of saying “we don’t take refugees” doesn’t exit, said the official. “Under the Geneva convention, it exists when the boat is full, but the boat in Austria is not full.”
“Austria is under a lot of pressure in the migrant crisis and Slovenia understands that,” Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar told reporters in Brussels. “Whether their decisions to cope with the crisis were the right ones is a different question.”
Mikl-Leitner told state broadcaster ORF that an offensive against Vienna in Brussels was “unjustified.”
German Chancellor Merkel Gives A Joint Press Conference With Austrian Chancellor Faymann
“My legal experts say that we are in line with the law,” Mikl-Leitner said.
“Those fleeing violence and persecution should seek international protection after crossing into the first safe country in their path of flight,” Mikl-Leitner said, adding that Austria is not that country.
“If all countries respected that we would not have this problem and we wouldn’t need to have taken measures at national level,” Mikl-Leitner said, adding that Austria will admit no more than 37,500 asylum seekers — about 80 a day starting Friday — this year.
“If there are more than 80 people, they will have to wait in Slovenia until there is space available,” Mikl-Leitner said.
EU officials fear Austria’s move could create a domino effect along the Western Balkan route.
European Council President Donald Tusk discussed measures other countries could be taking along the way, fearing the end result could be shutting down the border between Greece and Macedonia, a non-EU member struggling to cope with thousands of migrants crossing from Greece.
Slovenia’s Cerar said the intention was to create an “additional layer of control that would stop all those illegal migrants, who would break through the first layer of the Greek-Turkish border.”
“The plan is to boost control of EU’s exterior borders and that means that we have to help Greece with all means available to stop the relentless flow of refugees,” Cerar said. “We need to do everything to implement the agreement with Turkey. Second part of the proposal is my own, and that is an additional layer of control on the Greek-Macedonian border.”
Other countries complained their countries were reaching a limit, too. “Last year alone we received more than 20,000 migrants in Denmark,” said Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen. “We are at our very limit and now it’s time for other countries to step up and take responsibility. It cannot be up to Germany, Denmark, Finland and a few other countries to solve this crises.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was broad agreement that the EU should continue to work toward a solution with Turkey to halt the flow of refugees coming into the EU. The EU reached an agreement with Ankara in late November but the arrangement has yet to have a noticeable impact on the refugee flow.
Some in the EU have accused Turkey of shirking its responsibilities under the deal. Merkel had hoped to address the problems at a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu before the summit, but Wednesday’s terrorist attack in Ankara forced him to cancel his trip to Brussels. Instead, Merkel said Turkey’s role would be the focus of the special summit in early March. “Our priority is to achieve these goals,” she said, referring to what has become known as the EU-Turkey Action Plan.
Merkel played down suggestions of a rift with Austria, disputing reports that the debate over Vienna’s latest measures to limit the refugee influx was “heated.”
“We are all partners in Europe,” she said. “This is a decision for Austria to make.”
The Austrian government’s move to impose daily caps “reminded us how urgent it is for us to find solutions,” she said.
Maïa de la Baume, Matthew Karnitschnig and Hans von der Burchard contributed to this article.