Warning that the the refugee crisis is far from over, European leaders pledged €1 billion in humanitarian aid to help stem the daily waves of migrants landing on the beaches of Greece and Italy and heading north.
“It is clear the greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come, so it’s clear that we need to correct the problem of open doors and windows,” said Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, after the summit wrapped up early Thursday morning. “Now the focus should be on external assistance to refugees and countries at our borders.”
The money pledged includes €200 million from the European Union budget this year and €300 million next year. Member countries must match that total. Some of the funds will help Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan handle the migrants coming from Syria.The summit followed Tuesday’s decision to override the objections of several Eastern European countries and adopt a controversial plan to relocate 120,000 refugees, and weeks of escalating tensions around the borders of Hungary, Austria, Croatia and Bulgaria.
European governments had been squabbling for months over how to respond to the growing numbers of refugees pouring across its borders after having fled war zones in the Middle East.
Tusk and European President Jean-Claude Juncker, who have sometimes been at odds over the best way to address the crisis, moved quickly Wednesday to “clear the air,” according to one diplomat, and get EU leaders to “change the paradigm” and move beyond the rancor.
“For many days I have tried to moderate discussions between member states,” Tusk told reporters before the summit began. “But we have now reached a critical point where we need to end the cycle of mutual recriminations and misunderstandings.”
EU officials said Tusk had designed the Wednesday “informal” summit agenda in the hopes of avoiding the deadlock that caused a June meeting of leaders to drag into the early morning hours, by focusing on solutions where there was general agreement.
The effort largely succeeded, as diplomats said the atmosphere at the summit was nothing like the tense marathon meeting EU leaders held in June on the issue. Also, the countries outvoted on Tuesday on the relocation plan — Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Romania — chose not to press the issue during the summit gathering.
“We had a very constructive climate today,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the meeting. “I’m very satisfied.”
But there were still moments of tension, as when some leaders criticized Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for the tough measures his government has taken to keep refugees out. According to a diplomatic source, the critics said Orbán’s actions were counterproductive in terms of helping other countries control refugee inflows.
“Fences are no solution to the problem,” Merkel told reporters. “We need to talk more with Turkey and Lebanon, and we also need to find a solution for Syria and Libya. That means also talking to [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad.”
The leaders also agreed to invite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Brussels for a meeting on October 5 with Juncker on strengthening cooperation on migratory flows.
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