EU leaders arrive in Vienna for migration summit


EU leaders arrive in Vienna for migration summit

A weekend summit of European leaders kicked off on Saturday (September 24) with plans to discuss migration along the Balkan route, the path into Europe that Austria and others largely shut down this year, leaving thousands stuck in Greece and infuriating Athens.

National leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and European Union officials were greeted by Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern.

“Today we should discuss how to improve the effectiveness of our actions. We need to confirm politically and in practice that the western Balkan route of irregular migration is closed for good, and this is why I really appreciate that Chancellor Kern took this initiative and organized this meeting,” European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters ahead of meetings.

While overall arrival numbers in the EU have fallen, partly due to a deal between the EU and Turkey under which Ankara prevents migrants from embarking for Europe from its shores, the future of that deal is uncertain. The bloc has been split over measures aimed at providing a more lasting solution.

EU leaders vowed at a summit a week ago to strengthen protection of Bulgaria’s border with Turkey and intensify cooperation between their security services.

But Austria, which last year took in 90,000 asylum-seekers, more than 1 percent of its population, says it could not cope with another such wave of arrivals, and wants far more wide-ranging action to ensure that does not happen.

There has been tension between Germany’s Merkel and ex-communist eastern states which have refused to take in asylum-seekers, many of them Muslims.

But Merkel, who let in a million people last year, has said she now accepts their arguments for “flexible solidarity”, by which they could help in the migrant crisis in ways other than by taking in refugees.

The migration crisis has buoyed anti-immigration parties across Europe, including in Austria, where the far-right Freedom Party is running first in opinion polls and its candidate has a good chance of winning a presidential election this year.

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