Europe News

Europe remains as divided as ever over ‘almost impossible to solve’ migration crisis

Key Points
  • European leaders failed Sunday to come to an agreement over how to confront the migrant crisis together.
  • The contentious issue is now firmly on the table for this week’s EU summit in Brussels.
935 Migrant landing in Salerno July on 14,2017.
Paolo Manzo | NurPhoto | Getty Images

European countries failed to agree on a solution to the migration crisis at emergency talks Sunday, leaving the contentious issue firmly on the table for this week’s European Union (EU) summit in Brussels.

Sixteen EU leaders attended what was dubbed as a "mini-summit" on Sunday ahead of a full EU summit of 28 members on Thursday that is going to focus on the bloc's migration policy.

Leaders failed yesterday to come to an agreement over how to confront the migrant crisis together.

While the members present agreed on tighter external borders and extra funding to prevent people from trying to reach Europe, the issue of how to fairly distribute asylum seekers that have arrived remains a sticking point.

The impasse led German Chancellor Angela Merkel to say Sunday that bilateral and trilateral agreements between countries could be necessary if the wider summit on Thursday also fails to find a consensus on how to deal with what she said was a joint responsibility.

“We all agree that we want to reduce illegal migration, that we want to protect our borders and that we are all responsible for all issues,” she said after the talks. “Wherever possible, we want to find European solutions and where this is not possible, we want to bring people together... to develop a common framework for action.”

The EU has seen hundreds of thousands of migrants — including economic migrants, refugees and asylum seekers — enter the bloc in the last few years. In 2015 and 2016 alone, more than 2.5 million people applied for asylum in the EU, according to the European parliament, with many traveling over land and sea via Italy and Greece, or via Turkey and eastern Europe. Many of those arriving have tried to reach more prosperous countries like Germany.

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Although the number of migrants arriving in the EU has declined — particularly, after the EU offered Turkey money to host refugees and prevent more from arriving, mainly from Syria — “frontline” countries like Greece and Italy feel that other members have not taken their fair share of the thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who reach their shores, the EU’s external border, by sea.

With its new anti-immigrant, populist government, Italy, in particular, has clashed with the EU. On Sunday, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Rome wanted the “first country responsibility” rule dropped, instead calling for processing centers in other countries. The aforementioned rule obliges refugees to register in the first European country they enter, which has meant Italy has had to process the lion’s share of thousands of migrants.

In 2015 at the height of the crisis, the EU instigated a quota system to fairly distribute migrants after more than a million entered the region. But a handful of countries — notably Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — rejected the quota system. They also boycotted Sunday’s mini-summit.

Anti-immigration sentiment has risen in the EU, with many mainstream political parties taking a harder line on immigration to appeal to, and appease, voters. That has put leaders like German Chancellor Merkel under pressure to resolve the crisis, particularly after she took a welcoming stance towards migrants in 2015, the year in which more than 1 million refugees and migrants entered Germany.

Michael Harris, founder of Cribstone Strategic Macro, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Monday that he didn’t see how the migration crisis could be resolved easily.

"I think it’s going to be tough for the commission to solve because of the nature of the beast,” he said. “With everyone involved, there is some extreme hostility and the fact that these have to be unanimous decisions, I think it’s almost impossible to solve this.”

“Europe is constructed in a way where you have consensus and you can deal with things. And if you don’t have consensus, you simply can’t deal with things and there’s a question mark over whether migration is one of these things where, like the euro, where you can’t have any commonality in terms of an agreement over how to make it sustainable. My guess is that we’ll be talking about this for a long time.”