EU to ‘rapidly examine’ border police plan ‘to protect Schengen;’ signals ‘compromises’ with Cameron

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, European Council President Donald Tusk and Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov during a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, December 17, 2015. © Francois Lenoir
An EU summit in Brussels has come out in favor of creating a new border and coast guard agency to stem the refugee crisis, and also endorsed a system of direct migration from Turkey. Meanwhile, the Brexit issue was met with both “concerns” and “compromises.”

European Council President Donald Tusk stressed the need for external border controls, stating that without it “we will fail as a political community. And by that I mean potentially more serious consequences than dismantling Schengen.”

Following the first session of the European Council meeting, Tusk noted that all leaders “have agreed to protect Schengen.”

The Commission’s plan would allow a European Border and Coast Guard Agency to intervene “in urgent situations” if it is determined that member states are unable to protect their external borders effectively.

The current border patrol agency, Frontex, has been granted only coordinating powers, with each individual country being solely responsible for implementing its own border protection.

“The Council should rapidly examine the Commission proposals,” said the concluding statement released by the leaders, adding that each country needs to take its own position “under the Netherlands Presidency,” which runs from January to June.

READ MORE: New EU border agency must protect refugees’ human rights, Amnesty warns

Turkey’s role in Europe’s refugee crisis was also discussed at the meeting. The final released statement calls for “implementation” of the refugee deal already agreed upon with Turkey. It also urges the EU to “rapidly conclude” work putting together the €3 billion ($3.27 billion) – money that has been allocated to Turkey for handling Syrian refugees.

According to a deal that was agreed upon last month, Turkey is supposed to curb the trafficking of refugees from its territory to Greece, as well as take back refugees who have already crossed its borders, in return for the allocated money.

However, a recent EU report seen by Reuters has stated that there has only been a “slight reduction” in the influx of migrants and refugees from Turkey, which could be due to factors other than Ankara's efforts. Meanwhile, Ankara said in November that it “cannot guarantee anything.”

READ MORE: Turkey deal fails to live up to expectations, EU sees only ‘slight’ drop in migrants - report

To slow down the number of migrants arriving, Turkey is putting a rule into force stipulating that Syrians arriving from third countries will need a visa to enter the country starting next month, AP reported, citing a document drafted by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The documents states that “visa requirements for Syrian citizens will be introduced as of Jan. 8,” adding that it “will have a direct impact on reducing irregular crossings of groups holding Syrian passports who use sea or air routes from third countries to reach our countries.”

This issue was also discussed in a small group environment at the meeting of European Union leaders.

EU ‘concerned, but ready for compromise with UK’?

Some EU leaders have expressed reserved optimism about reaching a deal with UK Prime Minister David Cameron. The British PM is pushing the EU for more flexible migration and welfare benefit rules so that a referendum on whether the UK should stay in the union, scheduled for 2017, is more likely to pass.

David Cameron made his bid for EU reforms during a dinner time meeting at the European Council summit in Brussels. His plea lasted over half-an-hour.

Tusk said the talks were “substantive and constructive,” adding that “leaders voiced their concerns but also demonstrated willingness to look for compromise.” After the talks, Tusk said he was “much more optimistic” than he had been before the discussion.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that Berlin might be ready for a treaty change, but added that the basic principles of the union must be respected.

“We made it clear that we are ready to compromise, but always on the basis that we safeguard the core European principles, which include non-discrimination and free movement,” Merkel said.

“Especially regarding the fourth pillar [on welfare benefits] it won’t be easy but I still think that with good will we can find good solutions.”

READ MORE: Cameron’s EU referendum bill passes in Commons

Cameron, who would like to clinch a new deal for the UK before a British referendum on EU membership scheduled for the end of 2017, gave the longest summit speech in five years, arguing that a possible “pathway to a deal in February” has been found.

“Countries need flexibility so they can make changes to their welfare systems to better manage migration,” Cameron said, adding that British people fear “they will be taken against their will into a political project” that has “undermined British public trust in the EU for a number of years.”

Cameron called for “flexibility” and for the EU leaders to “work together” to help him reduce migration numbers. The British prime minister stressed that large number of migrants are “undermining support for the European Union” in the UK.

Cameron has also reiterated that his plan to withhold in-work benefits from EU migrants for four years is still possible and an agreement could be reached by February.

“I haven’t put any other proposals on the table. The commission said they believe there are solutions. Not compromises, solutions. I am confident we can find solutions,” Cameron said.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande said that the UK’s plan to strip EU migrants of benefits for “four years is too long.” Hollande stressed that “the most difficult questions are those regarding the eurozone and welfare benefits for EU workers.”

At the same time, he saw an upside. “There can be adjustments, accommodation, but European rules and principles must be respected,” he added. “It was a frank and open discussion.”

In the meantime Jean-Claude Juncker said the European Commission would prefer a Plan B instead of Cameron’s four-year benefit ban.

“The Commission is ready to look for other options than the single one proposed by the British PM, and I’m quite convinced we will find an answer to that highly complicated question,” he said. “We want a fair deal with Britain, and this deal has to be a fair deal for the other 27 too. We are open minded.”

“We are engaging in this dialogue, this negotiation, in an open minded way. We don’t want the British to leave, and we don’t want to blame the British. They have their points, we have our points, and we will find a way out of the complicated situation we are in.”

READ MORE: Migrant crisis could push UK out of EU – Cameron

Martin Schulz, the president of the parliament, says that there are “enormous sceptics” in the EU legislative body as to the viability of Cameron’s plan and that it would be “much easier” if Britain defined exactly what reforms require EU action and what can be done domestically.

“You may think it is strange that Mr. Schulz – whose job is akin to that of John Bercow – is taking a position on behalf of the entire parliament on a matter of pluri-lateral negotiation between the UK and 27 other states, not least given the Parliament hasn’t even voted on it. You would be right,” he said.