Europe News

EU leaders in awkward accord on migrant plans


European leaders pledged at least a billion euros worth of aid and a renewed sense of unity in dealing with the continent's migrant crisis on Wednesday, with European leaders telling CNBC that, after weeks of tension and division, the moves were a step in the right direction but not close to a solution.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels pledged 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) to help United Nations agencies support Syrian refugees who remain in the Middle East. This will mean more help for countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

The proposals is on top of an earlier vote this week to relocate 120,000 migrants throughout Europe, alleviating the strain on southern European countries like Italy, Greece and Hungary where migrants have tended to arrive.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told CNBC late Wednesday that the proposals to grant more financial aid to frontline agencies satisfied Italy, a country where many migrants have arrived by boat.

"It's not a problem of money, it's a problem of ideas. For the first time, I think European institutions have shown a very important approach...For the first time the migrant question is not simply a question for single member states. It is a question for all European people and European institutions," he said.

Croatian riot police officers control migrants as they board buses towards a refugee transit camp.
David Ramos | Getty Images

However, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary voted against the plan Wednesday night but were vetoed by the other member countries, signalling the EU's resolve in tackling the crisis. Slovakia has now launched a legal challenge to the mandatory quotas.

The meeting is the third this week to involve EU officials discussing migration, showing a new sense of urgency in finding a way to both relocate thousands of migrants and to help those countries closer to the source of the exodus.

Despite the Czech Republic's opposition to the quota plan, the country's Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka tried his best to remain upbeat, remarking that the bloc had upped its response to the crisis.

"I have to admit it has taken the EU several months to start moving forward and I hope that following the results of today's meeting this is the start of a new era in which the EU will move forward much faster," he told CNBC Wednesday.

Relaxed summit

Although there have been very public divisions between EU countries over a compulsory relocation plan, the atmosphere at Wednesday's informal summit was said to have been more relaxed than expected.

Speaking after the talks, European Council President Donald Tusk said that EU members – particularly between those that have argued for and against migrant relocation quotas– had agreed to tackle the crisis better in its own backyard.

"Leaders also agreed that the current chaos at our external borders must end. Proper management and control of our external borders is our common responsibility," he said, arguing that it was "unfair to put all the burden on Italy or Greece or other countries" where migrants have tended to arrive in boats after crossing the Mediterranean.

Tusk warned on Wednesday that the number of migrants that have arrived so far – estimated to be about 500,000, according to the EU's border protection agency, Frontex – was the tip of the iceberg.

"It is clear that the greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come. Therefore we need to correct the policy of open doors and windows," he said.

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanović told CNBC Wednesday that he didn't see the relocation of migrants in his country as a threat.

"We can accommodate several thousand people on permanent basis provided they are willing to stay there in Croatia, we don't see that as a threat," he said, adding that his country would not erect fences like its neighbor to keep migrants out: "We are a maritime country, open to the sea, we have never been fenced in...we don't like fences."

- Written by CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt. Follow us on Twitter: @CNBCWorld