European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at a press conference at the EU summit in Brussels, February 10, 2023.
Brussels – The European Union should improve the protection of its external borders and increase pressure on non-EU countries to take back rejected asylum seekers more quickly. The presidents and prime ministers of the member states agreed on this at night after several hours of debate at the Brussels summit. They had different positions on the question of whether the Union should directly finance the barriers at the borders, which many countries want to use to stop the growing influx of migrants to Europe. They also held discussions about accepting ships with rescued migrants or about the rule according to which the asylum procedure of the country through which foreigners come to the Union is organized. For Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, limiting migration along the Western Balkan route is a priority.
After several quieter years, European countries again saw a significant increase in the number of people heading from Africa or Asia via the Mediterranean Sea or the Balkans to the EU last year. According to EU statistics, almost a million people applied for asylum last year, which is almost double the number the year before. Of the hundreds of thousands of people whose applications were rejected by the authorities, the EU states managed to return only about a fifth to their countries of origin.
“It is very important that the European Council clearly recognized that migration is a European problem that requires European solution,” declared the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, after the night meeting.
Leaders agree that the problem lies, among other things, in insufficient cooperation with countries of origin and transit states. The summit agreed that member countries should limit the preferential granting of visas to these states unless they change their approach. Some politicians also talked about stopping development aid for non-cooperative countries, but this idea did not find the necessary support.
The conclusions of the summit also speak of strengthening border protection. In addition to some countries from the eastern wing of the EU, recently the politicians of Austria and the Netherlands in particular have been promoting the idea that the union should pay for the construction of border barriers. Some leaders, on the other hand, urged before the meeting that the union should not give the impression that it is closing its borders to people in need of help. According to von der Leyen, not only fences can be financed with EU money, but the entire infrastructure, including watchtowers, monitoring, cameras, border staff and their equipment, must be included in the projects.
The debate was also about the introduction of rules for non-governmental organizations , whose ships rescue migrants at sea and take them to EU ports. This is what Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni sought at the summit, whose government got into a dispute with France due to the rejection of a vessel with migrants. focus on protecting the external border and strengthen cooperation with the countries from which migrants come. “For the Czech Republic, the Western Balkans route is key. There we must focus on harmonizing the visa policy. The Western Balkans must not become a back door to the EU,” said Fiala.