EUROPEan Union

European summit outlines divisions amongst member states

Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker chat with European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels on Friday.
Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker chat with European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels on Friday. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

European Union leaders vowed this Friday to step up the fight against terrorism in the wake of the Paris attacks in January and November. The 28 heads of state and goverment met in Brussels for a two day summit which is the last of the year.The possible United Kingdom EU exit, or Brexit, and the ongoing migrant crisis were also high on the agenda.

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The summit, however, didn't spend a lot of time talking on a possible Brexit.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had made "good progress" on his negotiation with the EU but that it would be "tough to meet the February deadline".

Cameron promised Britons to renegotiate his country's relationship with the EU ahead of a in/out 2016 referendum. But so far he hasn't been really successful, with other leaders resisting his propositions.

Cameron's proposal to cut EU migrant benefits was for example deemed "unacceptable" by all 27 other heads of states. The other reform demands -- protections for countries that are not in the Eurozone, an exemption from more EU integration and greater economic competitiveness -- are far less problematic for his counterparts.

"My feeling is that member states would like to help Cameron but I think there's a lot to do," says Stefani Weiss, the director of Bertelsmann Stiftung’s office in Brussels. "I think that we'll have an agreement, the tricky question is, will it convince the audiences back home? How will Cameron be able to sell this at home?"

The summit also addressed the current EU migration crisis. Almost one million refugees, mostly from Syria have made their way through Europe this year but EU countries are still divided on how to cope with the crisis.

"According to yesterday's meeting, it looks like tensions which occurred in the last weeks and months have lowered down a little bit," says Yves Pascouau, the Director of Migration and Mobility Policies at the European Policy Centre. "It looks like EU leaders are agreeing on the fact there's a great need to move ahead, and in particular to implement the measures that have been proposed by the European Commission over the last few months."

Earlier this year, we saw the EU agree on the creation of hotspots in Greece and Italy and voluntary a system of relocation of refugees. But progress has been slow there too.

Only two of 11 migrant reception centres have been set up, while only around 200 asylum seekers out of a proposed 160,000 have been relocated.

"There's a question of not just to quickly process refugees, but also to some extent of a minimum commitment from members states to help Italy and Greece," notes Yves Pascouau. "But here again, if we have a look at the conclusion adopted by the leaders, there's a clear consensus that there is a need now to go ahead, and to implement the decisions."

The summit also tackled security issues, which saw EU leaders agree on one thing: an end of June deadline to agree on a new border and coastguard force.

The proposal of a 1500 guard "quick reaction force" was made by the European Commission last week. But this too, and especially a possible "right to intervene" in nations overwhelmed or seen as failing to protect their borders, has proven divisive among the EU states.

"While there's some opposition coming from Poland and Greece, related to the fact that they think this new force would have an impact on their sovereignty, so far there's no clear opposition to the border guards," says Yaves Pascouau

EU leaders also vowed to protect the Schengen area, the European passport-free zone... which might indeed indicate they are ready to act.

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