The atmosphere was reported to have been good, when the members of the European Council (EUCO) endorsed three courses of action to bring the refugee and migration crisis closer to some sort of control: a stronger external border, more external help in the MENA region and green light for the initiatives from the European Commission.
Tusk preparing the ground
Before the informal meeting of the heads of state or government, the president of the European Council Donald Tusk wanted to steer thegathering towards the the task of regaining control of the external Schengen border. He promised to propose a number of short term measures – mainly outside the EU in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – such as more help for refugees in the region through the World Food Programme and the UNHCR, more help for Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey an other countries in the region.
Tusk also wanted more help for the EU frontline countries and immediate strengthening of external border control through Frontex, the European Asylum Office and Europol.
External border, external help
The statement acknowledged that the unprecedented migration and refugee crisis requires a spirit of solidarity and responsibility, before it echoed the themes of the president: to uphold, apply and implement the existing rules, including the Dublin regulation and the Schengen acquis.
The leaders want the EU institutions and the national governments to work speedily on the priority actions proposed by the European Commission.
The heads of state or government wanted operational decisions on the most pressing issues before the October European Council, along the following orientations:
respond to the urgent needs of refugees in the region by helping the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Programme and other agencies with at least an additional 1 billion euro;
assist Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other countries in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis, including through a substantial increase of the EU's Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian Crisis ("Madad Fund");
reinforce the dialogue with Turkey at all levels, including at the upcoming visit of the Turkish President (5 October), in order to strengthen our cooperation on stemming and managing the migratory flows;
assist the Western Balkan countries in handling the refugee flows, including through pre-accession instruments, as well as ensure a speedy and solid preparation of the Western Balkans route conference (8 October);
increase the funding of the Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa through additional contributions by Member States, and ensure an optimal preparation of the Valletta Summit (11-12 November) to achieve maximum progress;
tackle the dramatic situation at our external borders and strengthen controls at those borders, including through additional resources for Frontex, EASO and Europol, and with personnel and equipment from Member States;
meet requests from front-line Member States for assistance by the institutions, the agencies and other Member States in order to ensure identification, registration and fingerprinting of migrants (hotspots) and at the same time ensure relocation and returns, at the latest by November 2015;
enhance the funding of the Emergency Fund for Asylum, Integration and Migration and the Internal Security Fund-Borders.
At the press conference following the meeting, president Tusk, who had been touring the MENA region, stated that there are eight million displaced persons in Syria, while about four million have fled to Syria's neighbours. There are millions of potential refugees to Europe from Syria alone, not to mention Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and other places. External borders and external assistance were his tools.
After Tusk's comments in spoken form at the press conference, president Jean-Claude Juncker limited his early hours remarks to the positive atmosphere of the meeting, before enumerating the European Commission's estimates of the added allocations needed for the tasks at hand (video recording 15:00).
Those who want an overview of the planned and proposed actions (or access to the detailed proposals) can study the latest press releases from the European Commission: statement on relocation of refugees (STATEMENT/15/5697), emergency relocation (MEMO/15/5698), remarks by president Juncker (SPEECH/15/5702), the commencement of forty infringement procedures against member states for failures to implement the asylum system correctly (IP/15/5699, available in 23 languages) and immediate measures under the European Agenda on Migration (IP/15/5700, available in French and German as well), including links to political guidelines and concrete proposals.
External borders, external support and backing for the Commission are the guidelines ahead of the next European Council, 15 and 16 October 2015.