Divisions Over Immigration Expose EU's Fault Lines at Summit

(Bloomberg) -- A bloc of Eastern European countries advocated for a toughening of the European Union’s immigration policy, setting the stage for a heated exchange at a summit on Thursday.

When it comes to the future of the euro, “the divide is between North and South, when it comes to migration it is between East and West,” said European Council President Donald Tusk. “These divisions are accompanied by emotions which make it hard to find even common language.” 

EU leaders are in Brussels to discuss defense, foreign policy and the state of negotiations over the U.K.’s withdrawal from the union. Among the most divisive issues is that of mandatory quotas for the allocation of refugees between member states.

In a note sent to heads of state and governments ahead of the gathering, Tusk called the quotas “ineffective”, drawing criticism from the EU’s commissioner for migration, who called the paper “anti-European.” Tusk proposed an approach focused on stemming migration flows outside the bloc and omitting any references to the need to distribute the burden internally.

“Some Brussels bureaucrats continue to organize and promote illegal migration,” Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto said in a statement. “Donald Tusk is now being attacked in a vile and sanctimonious manner by those who have been representing for years now the obviously misguided migration policy of the European Commission.”

Eastern Europe United

Tusk’s line received support from countries including his native Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, during the summit, while drawing criticism from Germany and Greece.

The so-called Visegrad Four countries issued a statement saying that the “migratory pressure on Europe can only be efficiently tackled by ensuring the protection of external borders, while addressing the root causes,” and committed 35 million euros ($41 million) to a project aimed at protecting EU’s borders in Libya.

The money was hailed as a welcome show of solidarity by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, though it won’t be seen as enough. “We don’t only need solidarity on controlling and steering migration on the outside,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “We also need solidarity on the inside, there cannot be selective solidarity among EU members,” she said.

More Division

The fault line doesn’t end with migration. Hungary and Poland have also been accused by some of their Western European partners of undermining the rule of law, disrespecting EU decisions, and inciting racial hatred. The commission will discuss Poland on Dec. 20, according to Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the bloc’s executive arm.

Asked by reporters whether the commission will launch a legal procedure that could result into sanctions against Poland, Timmermans declined to answer.

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