EU leaders seek unity on refugee plans

Updated: 2015-09-24 08:23


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EU leaders seek unity on refugee plans

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a news conference after an European Union leaders extraordinary summit on the migrant crisis, in Brussels, Belgium September 24, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]


Re-elected Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi heard calls from the north to use new EU support -- both in money and manpower -- to tighten controls on the bloc's Mediterranean frontiers.

Establishing a principle of "relocating" some asylum-seekers has been a key demand of Rome in particular, which wants to end a rule that states they should remain in the first EU state they enter. Northern countries accuse Italy and Greece of undermining the Schengen area by simply letting migrants move on unchecked.

Renzi said a package of EU-run relocations and deportations and EU-funded frontier forces meant Rome's partners had finally accepted demands it has been making for years to spread the load of migrant arrivals from Africa onto southern Italian islands.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gave a robust defence of the razor-wire fencing he has erected to keep out migrants; he insisted he was only following EU rules and said that if Greece could not defend its borders, Athens should ask for help.

On a visit to Germany earlier in the day, Orban accused Berlin of "moral imperialism" for encouraging Syrian refugees to try and reach the German frontier. But in Brussels he said he would not criticise Germany whom he praised as a valued partner.

Orban's Slovak ally, Prime Minister Robert Fico, said he would challenge in EU courts Tuesday's rare majority-vote decision to impose quotas on states for taking in up to 120,000 asylum-seekers, mainly from Italy and Greece.

"We have been refusing this nonsense from the beginning, and as a sovereign country we have the right to sue," Fico said.

However, many leaders and the EU officials organising the summit -- which will not take formal legal decisions -- are keen to put the row over "relocation" behind them for now.

Collectively, national leaders may be chided by Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU's chief executive whose Commission named 19 countries for breaches of EU asylum laws: "One of the reasons why the asylum system ... isn't working is because member states do not apply it," said Juncker's deputy, Frans Timmermans.