European Union leaders late Wednesday papered over profound divisions over the migrant crisis, agreeing to throw money at aid agencies and border services in an effort to stem the vast human tide.
Heads of government from the E.U.’s 28 member states said they would send 1 billion euros ($1.11 billion) to international agencies such as the U.N.’s High Commission for Refugees and its World Food Program. It also promised more money for andd cooperation with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, the three countries neighboring Syria which have been the first safe haven for more than 4 million people who have fled civil war there.
In addition to the money for refugee agencies and Syria’s neighbors, the bloc also promised money for Frontex, the service that coordinates the monitoring of the E.U.’s external borders, for Serbia and other western Balkan countries (still outside the E.U.) to help them control the flow of migrants en route to Germany and the other richer countries of the E.U.. (To see the full list of decisions taken, click here.)
The leaders also agreed to set up “hotspots” within two months which will be able to process applications for refugee status more quickly and efficiently than the Greek, Hungarian and Italian centers that have been overwhelmed by the numbers arriving.
“The measures we have agreed today will not end the crisis. But they are all necessary steps in the right direction,” E.U. Council president Donald Tusk said at a press conference following the meeting.
The summit came after a week in which Europe’s response to the crisis veered between farce and tragedy, with Hungary, Croatia and non-E.U. Serbia shunting the migrants back and forth in an effort to keep them off their territory.
The chaos led to a landmark response Tuesday that sent shockwaves through some of the E.U.’s smaller and newer members.
At an emergency meeting, ministers pushed through a plan for resettling 120,000 migrants across the E.U. through a system of mandatory quotas, riding roughshod over the objections of four of the bloc’s poorest members–Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It was a landmark application of new voting rules that were introduced seven years ago to allow faster decision-making, at the cost of national sovereignty. Slovakia has already said it will take legal action to block the decision.
Over half a million people have already arrived in Europe this year seeking either safety or just a better life. The flows increased after Germany, the E.U.’s biggest country and the preferred destination for many, signalled its willingness to accept the surge of refugees. Chancellor Angela Merkel is however now under increasing pressure to change her stance, both from alarmed local governments and from signs of growing alarm and resentment among the population. There has been a wave of arson attacks against centers for asylum-seekers across the country in recent weeks. The country reintroduced selective border controls at the weekend, undoing one of the E.U.’s most visible achievements.