EU's new eastern leaders stick to guns on refugees

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 14, 2017 7:07 AM

By Gabriela Baczynska and Robert Muller

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The new prime ministers of Poland and the Czech Republic vowed not to give any ground on the divisive issue of hosting refugees as they arrived in Brussels on Thursday for their first summit of European Union leaders.

More than two years after a massive influx of asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa created deep divisions in the EU, members are still feuding over how to share the burden of caring for asylum seekers.

The dispute pits frontline countries Italy and Greece, and rich destination countries like Germany, against four ex-communist states on the EU's eastern edge -- Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia -- that have refused to take in refugees.

Poland's Mateusz Morawiecki and the Czech Republic's Andrej Babis, who both took office earlier this month, made clear that they would maintain the hard line of their predecessors.

"It is worth investing considerable amounts of money in helping refugees in (regions) they are fleeing from. The help on the ground there is much more effective," Morawiecki told reporters, explaining that Warsaw was ready to do that instead of taking in refugees.

The four eastern prime ministers offered 35 million euros to Italy on Thursday to support EU-backed migration projects in Libya aimed at curbing immigration to Europe.

Gentiloni, arriving at the summit, welcomed the financial contribution but said the four still needed to accept refugees, an issue all EU leaders will discuss over dinner in Brussels on Thursday.

The dispute was reignited this week when Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister who chairs the summits, came out against obligatory relocation quotas, ruffling feathers in many EU states.

"We are at a turning point in the EU in terms of understanding the refugee policy and I am very glad that our approach is being increasingly accepted here in Brussels," Morawiecki said.

Other countries would dispute that. The proponents of quotas have warned that they could force the waverers to accept refugees in a majority vote if no compromise is found.

"It won't happen," Babis told reporters ahead of the summit. He said any attempt to impose "nonsensical" quotas by majority vote would only widen the divisions in the EU.

(Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Noah Barkin)