EU leaders harshen stance on migrant crisis but show division over fencing

At a special summit on February 9, the EU leaders took their harshest position on migration in recent history amid a backdrop of illegal border crossings reaching their high degree since 2015.

Following a surge in illegal migration in 2022, migration regulation has re-emerged at the top of the EU agenda.

Last year, the EU’s border control agency, Frontex, documented over 330,000 irregular border crossings, and national immigration authorities were under increasing strain due to massive backlogs of awaiting asylum requests.

The Austrian government has led an unsuccessful campaign to obtain EU funding to erect a fence along Bulgaria’s border with Turkey.

The proposition to finance the border fence obtained little endorsement from other leaders. At the same time, the bloc’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, stated, “people migrate because in their nations there is not a future, there is no peace, there is no stability.”

However, EU sources stated that there was agreement in the summit conclusions on strong provisions threatening to restrict funding, tariff-free trade, and visa access to countries that refuse to accept rejected asylum applicants.

According to the final declaration, the EU would use “all relevant EU policies, mechanisms, and capabilities, including diplomacy, development, commerce, and visas, as well as lawful migration” as leverage.

The authority to link foreign aid to migrant cooperation has existed for almost two decades under the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific communities, but it has never been employed.

The successor to the Cotonou Agreement, finalized by EU and ACP negotiators in 2021, has yet to be approved since the Hungarian government refuses to ratify it because it does not go far enough to reduce migration.

The Cotonou Agreement also mandates that governments return unsuccessful asylum applicants and economic migrants.

Other problematic issues were the possibility of instituting a code of conduct for NGOs operating search boats to save migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea and stricter restrictions over asylum requests to discourage people from applying in several European nations.

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