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Migration and UK EU referendum dominate post-summit debate

Martin Schultz and Donald Tusk speaking
Martin Schultz and Donald Tusk speaking

Many MEPs criticised EU leaders for their inability to deal with the migration and refugee crises in Tuesday’s plenary debate reviewing the December EU summit with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk. The upcoming EU referendum in the EU UK was also a hot topic.

Council President Donald Tusk listed the challenges discussed at the December summit: "We are being tested on all possible fronts", he said. On migration, he stressed that there is no alternative to border protection. The March summit will be the deadline for seeing whether the current EU strategy on migration works. If it does not, “we could face grave consequences, such as the collapse of Schengen”, he added.

"If member states had implemented the policies we put forward, we would be in a better situation" on migration, said President Jean-Claude Juncker. He called on national governments to show more solidarity and commitment to tackling migration crisis. "The cost of non-Schengen would be very high and would go against growth and jobs", he added.

It is important to remember EU success stories, like the recent Iran nuclear deal and the climate agreement in Paris, said EPP leader Manfred Weber (DE). On the UK referendum on the EU, he said that many of Prime Minister Cameron's ideas could lead to improvements for the EU as a whole, especially in the areas of innovation and better regulation. Mr Weber insisted, however, that he would never accept discrimination of EU citizens, even if the purpose is combatting abuse of social welfare systems.

Enrique Guerrero Salom (S&D, ES) observed that when EU leaders go back to their countries, they ignore the commitments agreed in the European Council. “It is like the myth of Sisyphus, we keep going back to our starting point also in the fields of migration, terrorism and economy”, he said, warning that if the EU continues doing this, “it will be its political death”.

Geoffrey van Orden (ECR) criticised the EU for trying to do too much and ending up making things worse. "Citizens do not want an ‘ever closer Union’", but an EU that "costs less" and "cuts red tape", he said. He welcomed the PNR agreement and said that we should recognise "how sensible Mr Cameron's policies on migration are".

Only "290 people out of 160,000 have been relocated so far" and this is due to a lack of decisions by member states and not the EU, stressed ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt (BE). He urged Mr Tusk to convene an extraordinary summit on the refugee crisis to adopt new rules on relocation, migration and an EU European border and coast guard.

Inés Cristina Zuber (GUE, PT) said that Europe's only answer to the migration and refugee crisis seems to be stronger expulsion mechanisms.

Despite the summit's self-critical talk about a lack of crisis management, the migration situation today is still “disastrous”, said Ulrike Lunacek (Greens, AT), adding that only a common solution could work.

Nigel Farage (EFDD, UK) cited the New Year´s Eve attacks on women in Cologne as another reason to vote for the UK to leave the EU. “British people know those young men in Cologne in a few years will have a European passport and be free to come to Britain”, he said.

This was echoed by Vicky Maeijer (ENF, NL), who asserted that “more refugees mean more terrorists”.

Video recording of debate (click on 19.01.2016)
EC Press Release: Latest figures and state of play on EU migration strategy (19.01.2016)
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