— European Union ministers attending an emergency session were at loggerheads on Monday over a comprehensive, coordinated approach to managing the huge number of migrants crossing member countries’ southern and eastern borders.
But they did reach agreement on a limited, first step.
The home affairs ministers from member states gathered here after Germany
reversed course over the weekend and imposed temporary border restrictions, cutting off rail service from Austria
and instituting spot checks on cars.
The ministers did agree on Monday to steps to relocate 40,000 migrants from Greece and Italy
, two front-line countries that have faced the initial burden of an influx of migrants and asylum seekers in Europe
. But a lasting solution for relocating as many as 160,000 migrants to European Union countries farther north and west looked elusive as the meeting dragged into the evening.
Countries, particularly those in Central and Eastern Europe, continued to balk at plans backed by Berlin and the European Union authorities to accept fixed quotas of migrants in response to Europe’s largest humanitarian crisis in decades.
The decision by Germany to tighten the borders, which appeared to be a signal to other nations in the 28-member bloc that it could soon reach its limits in dealing with the crisis unless they show a greater willingness to cooperate, added a new level of urgency to the meeting.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive agency, has called for the quota system to be compulsory.
Europe, Mr. Juncker said in his State of the Union address last week, had a moral duty and an economic interest to give migrants new homes.
Mr. Juncker’s proposal included relocating 40,000 migrants who have arrived in Greece and Italy, and who are covered by the plan given approval on Monday, and a second plan to take in a further 120,000 migrants who have arrived in those two countries as well as in Hungary
Eastern and Central European countries like Slovakia and the Czech Republic have rejected any effort by Brussels to require that they accept asylum seekers.
Arriving at the meeting, Robert Kalinak, the Slovak interior minister, made clear his opposition to Mr. Juncker’s plan.
“This proposal is not solving the problem,” Mr. Kalinak told reporters. Rather than focusing on transit countries where migrants do not want to stay, it would be far better “to help Germany and find some solution how we help the Western countries which are at the end of the route of the refugees, the migrants,” he said.
The Swedes took the opposite approach before the meeting, underlining the deep gulf in Europe over how to respond to the crisis, with Morgan Johansson, the Swedish minister for justice and migration, calling for binding targets.
“We really need to share this responsibility, with solidarity,” Mr. Johansson said.
“I’m not sure we’ll get all the way today,” he said, adding that he hoped ministers would at least make “a couple of steps.”
Mr. Johansson said the goal should be helping migrants by offering language training and other means “to make them part of our nations.”
He also took a swipe at Hungary’s leadership for “trying to scare people off” by using “very vivid rhetoric,” including bluntly telling migrants not to go there.
The Hungarian response, he suggested, was an inappropriate reaction to the war in Syria
, which has led to the “worst humanitarian crisis in our time.”
Although countries like Germany have said they want to do as much as possible to accommodate migrants who have fled war and persecution and reached Europe, others like Hungary say that quotas only serve to encourage ever larger numbers of people to pay people-smugglers and to risk their lives on treacherous journeys.
Countries that oppose the quotas have also argued that they have no tradition of offering refuge to people of different cultures, that their economies cannot sustain the influx, and that most of the migrants want to live in richer and more welcoming places.
There is also disagreement among European Union governments about which non-European countries should be included on a list of so-called safe countries — nations like Albania
, Serbia and Turkey
that are judged to be free of persecution, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, indiscriminate violence and armed conflict.
Migrants from safe countries would be assessed more quickly, and those that do not qualify for asylum would then be returned to their home countries.
The scale of the influx means that the crisis is one of the most serious the European Union has ever faced. Negotiating a common solution is likely to take months, if not years.
The “proposals on the table for Monday’s so-called emergency meeting fall dangerously short of addressing gaps and ensuring protection and dignity for those in need,” Iverna McGowan, the acting director of the European Institutions Office for Amnesty International, warned on Monday.
About 2,800 people have died this year while trying to reach Europe, according to Amnesty International, which noted that some migrants had also been pushed back from the European Union’s external borders.
As Monday’s meeting got underway, the ministers reached the agreement to relocate 40,000 migrants from Greece and Italy.
This will be “a temporary and exceptional relocation mechanism over two years from the front-line member states Italy and Greece to other member states,” the European Union said in a statement. “It will apply to persons in clear need of international protection who have arrived or are arriving on the territory of those member states” from Aug. 15 until Sept. 16, 2017.
Other European Union member states accepting migrants from Greece and Italy would only need to do so voluntarily. But the decision “is an important political message,” said Jean Asselborn, the minister of immigration and asylum of Luxembourg,
whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.
“Now that the Council is discussing an additional emergency relocation proposal, it is very important to see that the first mechanism is set up and begins to produce its effects,” said Mr. Asselborn, who was referring to discussions about relocating another 120,000 migrants.
The system to relocate the first 40,000 migrants could begin in the coming days. Most of those qualifying for relocation are expected to be Syrians and Eritreans.
The plan to relocate a further 120,000 migrants could win a political endorsement from a majority of ministers on Monday. But a final decision on that plan, and a deal on a permanent system to redistribute migrants during future crises, could still require a meeting of European Union leaders later in the month.
“A mandatory quota for the E.U.-wide relocation of migrants is unlikely to be achieved quickly, if at all,” Carsten Nickel, a senior vice president at Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy, said on Monday. “Any eventual agreement is unlikely to greatly involve the commission and will instead be reached between member states, ensuring the supremacy of capitals rather than E.U. institutions over this core issue of national sovereignty,” he added, referring to the European Commission led by Mr. Juncker.
Last week, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, which represents national leaders and organizes summit meetings, said that the home affairs ministers needed to reach “a solution based on consensus and genuine solidarity.”
“Without such a decision,” he said Friday from Cyprus
, “I will have to call an emergency meeting of the European Council still in September.”