Peter Spiegel

Hungary's interior minister, Sandor Pinter, arrives at the migration council Monday afternoon

The EU’s interior ministers started their highly-anticipated meeting to agree next steps in Europe’s burgeoning migrant crisis with a newly drafted communiqué, which Brussels Blog got its hands on and has posted here.

As expected, the new draft would have EU members agreeing to accept 120,000 more refugees and relocate them around the bloc so that none of the front-line countries are overburdened – but rejects the European Commission’s demand that such a relocation system be mandatory, with set quotas for each country.

But what wasn’t expected is a significant watering down of the language that commits ministers to implement that plan. Last night, a draft of the communiqué included this sentence on the need to quickly adopt the relocation scheme:

Work will be carried out as a matter of priority on the preparation of a formal decision to implement this commitment.

In the new draft, that sentence has a new clause that includes a whole lot of caveats:

Work will be carried out as a matter of priority on the preparation of a formal decision to implement this commitment, with due regard to the flexibility that could be needed by Member States in the implementation of the decision, in particular to accommodate unforeseen developments.

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Duncan Robinson

A mother holds her child outside a migration centre in Rome last week

Brussels may be obsessed with the prospect of Grexit, and much of the focus of the two-day EU summit that starts on Thursday may be Brexit. But the issue worrying many EU diplomats going into the summit is something else entirely: migration.

For the first time, a draft conclusions sent around to national capitals on Monday (we have posted a copy here) includes language on how leaders will deal with the massive influx of refugees from North Africa. If you’ll recall, an emergency summit held in April explicitly left out any targets for numbers of refugees washing up on Italian and Greek shores that would be “relocated” in other EU countries.

Then the European Commission decided it would propose 40,000 of those refugees would be relocated and even came up with European schemes for relocation and resettlement (pdf) that divvied up how many each country would accept. National capitals were not too pleased with that.

The European Commission seems relatively happy with the new draft communiqué. The figures — 40,000 people, over two years — are still there. Likewise, the call for “rapid adoption” — perhaps at a meeting next month — of their migration proposals is stronger than some within the Berlaymont had feared.

But the conclusions do not mention the word “mandatory”, which has raised red flags since many fear that without resettlement quotas, countries will be hard pressed to avoid political pressure to keep refugees out. But it should be noted that the original proposals didn’t mention the word “mandatory”, either. Read more

Peter Spiegel

Herman Van Rompuy during a public appearance at the European Council building on Wednesday

EU leaders are gearing up for their first summit in four months tomorrow – the longest hiatus since the outbreak of the eurozone crisis three years ago.

It is a measure of how calm the financial markets have been that no major decisions are to be taken at the two-day get-together, which is supposed to focus on telecommunications and digital policy issues. “It’s not a summit for decisions,” said one top EU diplomat. “The objective is decisions at the December summit.”

Still, for the cognoscenti there is much to comb over, including the simmering spat between France and Britain over José Manuel Barroso’s effort to streamline EU regulations.

On Wednesday afternoon, the office of Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council and chair of all summits, circulated a final draft of the summit communiqué, which Brussels Blog got its hands on and posted here. A few things worth noting: Read more

Peter Spiegel

Herman Van Rompuy, who as president of the European Council, will chair the summit

Although the eyes of Europe are on Athens, the two-day summit of European heads of government that starts today in Brussels may have little to add to the ongoing debate over what to do about Greece’s debt crisis.

That’s because most of the tough decisions left – particularly how to involve private bondholders in shouldering some of the cost of another Greek bail-out – have been put in the hands of finance ministers, who must hash out their differences before an emergency meeting July 3.

Economic issues will hardly be off the agenda, however, especially tonight. In his letter to European leaders, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said tonight’s dinner will be focused on the economy – though largely issues that are not particularly controversial or have been decided by finance ministers. Read more

Peter Spiegel

With France’s presidential election already in high gear, some top EU diplomats Brussels Blog has talked to in recent weeks are concerned that in the months leading to the summer break, the Brussels agenda could become overwhelmed by the politically sensitive issue of migration.

Tuesday’s summit between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is evidence their concerns are well placed.

For those who haven’t read it yet, it’s worth taking a look at the letter Berlusconi and Sarkozy sent to the EU’s two presidents, Commission chief José Manuel Barroso and Council boss Herman Van Rompuy. Pay special attention to the letter’s section III, where the two propose “enhanced security” in Europe’s visa-free Schengen area. Read more