EU leaders on Thursday set an end-of-June deadline to agree on a new border and coastguard force to slow the influx of migrants across the 28-nation bloc’s porous external frontiers.
Leaders also urged EU ambassadors to arrange for the rapid delivery of a promised three billion euros ($3.25 billion) in aid for refugees in Turkey in return for its help in stemming the flow.
Following a slew of emergency summits this year, they acknowledged they had been too slow to carry out a joint strategy to tackle Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
“Implementation is insufficient and has to be speeded up,” the leaders declared in the conclusions on migration at their last summit of the year in Brussels.
They discussed plans unveiled Tuesday for a new border and coastguard force which can step in if necessary without the host country’s consent.
The new agency will have a quick reaction force of 1,500 guards and a “right to intervene” in European Union nations that are either overwhelmed or are deemed to be failing to secure their part of the EU’s external border.
With one million mainly Syrian refugees and migrants set to arrive in Europe this year, the lack of effective border control has led to fears for Europe’s cherished Schengen passport-free area as nations restore internal controls to stem the tide of humanity.
“The Council should adopt its position on the European Border and Coast Guard under the Netherlands presidency,” according to the published conclusions.
Taking over from Luxembourg, the Netherlands assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union from January 1 until June 30 next year.
An EU source acknowledged that some member states remain reluctant to embrace a plan that could see them cede sovereignty to bureaucrats in Brussels.
European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said this week the new force could take over management of national borders in “exceptional situations” where a member state was unable to cope.
The full gathering of leaders in Brussels followed a mini-summit grouping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and 10 other EU leaders who met to review a November 29 migrant cooperation deal with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
– Heavy migrant inflows –
In exchange for aid to help improve the lot of the more than two million Syrian refugees sheltering on Turkish soil, Turkey agreed to try to limit the numbers travelling to Europe and tackle human smugglers who profit from their desperate journeys.
The group of ambassadors of the EU missions in Brussels “is asked to rapidly conclude its work on how to mobilise the three billion euros for the Turkey refugee facility,” according to the migration conclusions.
But EU leaders also wanted Turkey to honour its part of the bargain.
“We see that the influx from Turkey to Greece is diminishing insufficiently,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said. “It must go down faster now, get closer to zero.”
Around 4,000 people have been landing daily this month in Greece from Turkey, the main launchpad for migrant crossings to Europe, according to a Luxembourg presidency report.
That marks only “a slight reduction” from November, when 5,000 to 6,000 people were arriving each day, the report said, adding it was not clear that the decline was related to the EU-Turkish deal.
The leaders also called for member states to move more quickly on other fronts.
Despite months of haggling, only two of 11 migrant “hotspots” or reception centres have been set up in Greece and Italy, while only around 200 asylum seekers out of a proposed 160,000 have been relocated from those frontline states to other EU nations.
The EU-staffed reception centres determine who among the new arrivals are eligible for admission as refugees and who should be deported as economic migrants.