Few summits gain any media attention due to their dry nature.
This weekend by contrast, EU leaders gather to discuss the most contentious issue of them all, an issue which threatens to lay bare the deepest divisions within the bloc.
Big stakes, deep divisions
At the top of the list of divisive matters is the asylum and migration issue, which is once again tearing at the fabric of Europe, most notably in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is at risk of collapsing because of a fight with her coalition partner, the Christian Social Union.
Merkel has raised the stakes for EU leaders by publicly challenging the CSU leader, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, to wait until after the summit to enact tougher asylum rules at Germany’s borders. The delay buys Merkel a little time to work out deals with frontline countries like Italy, Greece and Bulgaria but also amps up pressure on her fellow European Council members to find consensus on an issue that has now eluded compromise through five EU presidencies.
Bulgaria, which will pass the presidential baton to Austria on July 1, has been pushing for a deal on a broad legislative package, only to encounter the same unbridgeable divide between hard-line countries like Hungary, which oppose any mandatory distribution of asylum seekers, and coastal nations like Italy that have been hit hardest by the arrivals of refugees and economic migrants, and want quotas to spread the burden.
“The most important decision for us, and what we are really waiting for, is the decision on what happens on migration/asylum,” the Austrian diplomat said. “We don’t know what will happen. Is there consensus next week? We don’t think so. If there’s no consensus, what will then happen? Will the president of the Council tell us to continue the Bulgarians’ work? Will there be another mandate from the European Council to the presidency with some ideas of which way we will go?”
- In 2015, the number of people applying for asylum in the EU peaked at 1.26 million to trigger the current migration
- 2,257 people are thought to have lost their lives in the Mediterranean in the first six months of 2017
- In 2016 5,022 lives were estimated to be lost in the Mediterranean and in 2015 3,771.
- Germany received the highest number of new asylum applications in 2015, with more than 476,000.
- Hungary moved into second place for asylum applications, as more migrants made the journey overland through Greece and the Western Balkans. It had 177,130 applications by the end of December.