A fraught discussion between European Union leaders on how to tackle a newly burgeoning migration crisis ended without any real breakthrough on Friday, though Greek officials said they came away with pledges to support Greece’s efforts in asylum processing and guarding its borders.
According to government sources, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to put pressure on Ankara to intensify its crackdown on human smuggling across the Aegean.
Merkel and Juncker pledged to bolster Greek efforts to accelerate the processing of asylum applications and to help increase the presence of Frontex, the EU’s border monitoring agency, along Greece’s borders with Turkey and Bulgaria, sources said.
“Supporting the southeastern borders is important for the security of the EU and the management of migrant flows, of the people who want to enter the EU,” Tsipras said.
He took the opportunity, however, to criticize calls by European Council President Donald Tusk for mandatory refugee quotas to be abolished.
“The manner in which the principle of solidarity was being questioned does not only undermine the discussion on the refugee issue, but the future of Europe,” Tsipras told reporters.
It was not only Tsipras who expressed exasperation.
The debate exposed divisions within the bloc over the refugee crisis, with leaders of Western European and former Eastern bloc states clashing while Tusk’s opinion was also opposed by Juncker.
“There are areas where there is no solidarity and this is something I find unacceptable,” Merkel remarked.
New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who also visited Brussels, reiterated his opposition to Tusk’s proposal regarding quotas and underlined the need for solidarity across the bloc.
Ultimately, EU officials agreed to try to reach a solution to the deadlock by June.
Back in Athens there is concern that a government decision to start transferring migrants from overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands to the mainland could encourage smugglers to step up their activities.