LUXEMBOURG – EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini said the refugee influx, which has opened deep divisions in the bloc, is here to stay and member states must adjust to that new reality.
“It is here to stay; the sooner we accept it, the sooner we will be able to respond effectively (and) united as Europeans,” Mogherini said after a two-day informal meeting of EU foreign ministers.
“It affects all of us. A few months ago, it was Italy, Greece and Malta. Now it is Hungary and it could (be the) turn of other member states in the future,” Mogherini said.
The crisis has exposed sharp rifts in the 28-nation bloc, with Germany leading calls to take in many more people fleeing war and upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa.
However, newer eastern member states led by Hungary bluntly oppose European Commission plans for mandatory quotas and a permanent admission mechanism, saying that would only encourage more migrants to risk their lives coming to Europe.
The foreign ministers meeting, which as an informal gathering discussed policy but took no decisions, was overshadowed by dramatic events as thousands of migrants stranded for days in Budapest were bused to Austria en route to Germany.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said their plight and the growing human cost was a “wake up call” for Europe to resolve its biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
Austrian police said 4,000 people crossed into the country early Saturday morning, with the number predicted to rise to 10,000.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the understanding with Austria and Hungary on letting the refugees through should not set a precedent.
“The help in the emergency situation was linked to an urgent appeal not to make out of this the practice for the coming days,” he said.
Mogherini said the issue was hugely important for the future of the European Union, which should remember that other countries were doing much more — Turkey has taken in some two million refugees while member states could not agree on even the initial 60,000 proposed by the European Commission.
Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to present new proposals next week in a “State of the Union” address, including taking in some 120,000 people via a quota system.
Mogherini said the EU must connect the dots — to deal with the problem from start to finish by pushing peace efforts in Syria, Libya and working with transit countries such as Niger.
Efforts too must be made to tackle the stalled Middle East peace process, she said, arguing that the recent Iran nuclear accord showed how even long-standing problems could eventually be resolved.