The meeting aimed at bridging differences on the issue of migrants has not made progress.
A true Wagnerian staging: twilight and monumental. The table of European leaders, set up on the evening of Wednesday 19 September in the twilight of the Manege des Roches, a concert hall in Salzburg (Austria), has probably not helped to bring together ever diverging views on migration.
The purpose of this meeting, however, was to try – finally – to get out of the political crisis caused by the glaring lack of solidarity between the Member States. Those in the East (starting with Hungary) refuse any “redistribution” of refugees, and Italy blocks most of its ports for the landing of migrants.
End the “blackmail on migration” as well as “those who want to gain political advantage of the situation”, and move forward in the search for solutions: this was the wish of the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, before this appointment. It was clearly aimed at Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the League (far right).
The atmosphere, however, seemed electric when, on his arrival, Xavier Bettel, the Luxembourg Prime Minister, also attacked Mr. Salvini, as well as the Austrian presidency: the Italian had filmed a recent algerade on the migration between him and his Luxembourg counterpart, Jean Asselborn, punctuated by an already famous “Shit, then! ” of the last. And Vienna had not protested against this novel method. “I’m going to ask Giuseppe Conte [Italian] Prime Minister if he too is going to film,” Bettel said irritably.
“Discussions confirmed that differences persist”
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz began the meeting by referring to the reservations of Hungary, Greece, Italy or Spain to the Commission’s plan to strengthen the border guards Frontex, to increase its workforce to 10,000 in 2020.
At dinner, European leaders also spoke of landing platforms, the sorting centers for migrants they would like to install in third countries, but Morocco and Tunisia have already refused to host. Mr Tusk spoke of a possible agreement with Egypt, where there would be thousands of migrants eager to join Europe. He also advanced the idea of an EU-Arab League summit in February 2019 in Cairo.
With regard to the EU’s plans for “controlled” (closed) migrant centers, which were painfully negotiated in June, “the discussions have confirmed that differences remain,” said a diplomat. Paris and Rome are opposed on this subject. Described as “calm”, “less tense than before”, with a silence noticed by Viktor Orban and others from the East, the meeting on Wednesday, however, especially recorded these disagreements.
“The press can not force me to reject Mr. Orban”
The only subject that the Europeans are still talking about – surprisingly – with one voice is therefore Brexit, on the menu of Thursday’s debates. Britain’s Theresa May has called on the 27-member to compromise on the Irish border issue. His colleagues just listened to him. “It was interesting, polite, not aggressive”, explained Thursday morning, the president of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.
The leaders of the European People’s Party (EPP, right), who were also meeting in Salzburg on Wednesday, did not intend to add to the tension. The vote in the Strasbourg Parliament a week earlier, which had denounced the risks of violations of the rule of law in Hungary and recommended the activation of Article 7 of the EU Treaties, was not even mentioned.
There is no question, for the time being, of ousting Viktor Orban from the party, even if he has become the hero of the extreme right. “The press can not force me to reject Mr Orban, we have rules,” said Joseph Daul, the EPP president. The party will wait to see how the “Article 7” procedure evolves to make a decision.
“It’s not in this type of chef’s summit that we wash our dirty laundry,” said a source at the EPP. Especially since Angela Merkel, the real “patron” of the party, only arrived for the dinner of the European leaders. His absence made any decision impossible.
The Commission also delayed on Wednesday, avoiding to point too clearly another Member State that is in the sights of the EU: Poland. Since December 2017, Warsaw is the subject of this famous “Article 7” procedure for “clear risk of serious violation of the rule of law”. Brussels had planned to announce, Wednesday noon, the referral to the Court of Justice of the EU about the controversial reform of the Polish Supreme Court. She preferred to postpone her decision.