European Union leaders could promise billions of euros in new funding for Syrian refugees at an emergency summit on Wednesday where they will also try to patch up bitter divisions over the migration crisis.
Meeting for dinner a day after interior ministers overrode furious objections from four eastern states in a vote that will distribute asylum-seekers around the bloc according to mandatory national quotas, government leaders will try to focus on ways to curb the inflow of migrants that has hit records this summer.
But feelings are running high as chaotic crowds and varied responses from national capitals have seen borders close inside Europe’s cherished passport-free Schengen zone and diplomats expect “theatrics” from some of the 28 leaders as each seeks to shore up domestic support in the face of fears of immigration.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel may face criticism of her move last month to take in more Syrians, an action some of her eastern neighbors say fueled the inflow. Re-elected Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will hear calls from the north to use new EU support 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.
Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, can be expected to offer a typically robust defense of the razor-wire fencing he has erected to keep out migrants and his view, shared in some other ex-communist states, that Muslim immigration is unwelcome.
His 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.
However, many leaders and the EU officials organizing the summit — which will not take formal legal decisions — are keen to put the row over “relocation” behind them for now.
On a day when some 2,500 people landed on the Greek island of Lesbos alone, they want to rally a common front, hoping to persuade fewer Syrians to risk the journey and also implement agreements to set up EU-backed reception centers in Greece and Italy to register those arriving — a key element in addressing concerns about undocumented migrants moving across Europe.
Turkey, locked in a long love-hate relationship with Europe and through which the bulk of the summer’s migrants have reached Greece, may hear promises of up to 2 billion euros to help build schools and provide for the welfare of the 2 million Syrians it has accommodated from the civil war.
Johannes Hahn, who deals with the EU’s neighbors as a member of the executive Commission, said on Wednesday that a trust fund established to help Syrian refugees across the region, including in Jordan and Lebanon, could reach 1 billion euros on a mix of pledges from the EU and the member states.
Noting plans to install “hot spots” on the Mediterranean where seconded EU officials will document arrivals and try to speed the deportation of those not qualifying for refugee status, Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said: “The most urgent thing we need to do is to make sure we can fingerprint and register everyone who arrives so that we can make a distinction between those who potentially have the right to asylum and people who are migrants who don’t.”