European leaders remain at loggerheads over an ideal refugee policy meant to curb the flow of migrants into Europe.
A meeting held on Thursday night – spilling into the wee hours of Friday – failed to reconcile opposing views on the migrant issue, particularly how to reform the defunct asylum rules.
Leaders emerging from nearly three hours of talks made it clear that while there was little of the angry passion of 2015, when a million people flooded into Greece and headed for Germany, the “frank and sober” exchanges failed to blunt sharp rifts pitting some eastern states against many of the rest.
“We have a lot of work to do,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. “The positions have not changed.”
Divisions over how to share out relatively small numbers of refugees have poisoned relations in the EU, complicating efforts to present a united front in talks with London on Brexit and to agree an EU budget out to 2028.
New Polish and Czech leaders stuck to lines shared with Hungary and Slovakia that their ex-communist societies cannot accept significant immigration, especially of Muslims.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis called the debate “quite stormy”. But, he said, the four ex-communist eastern allies, known together as the Visegrad Four, would not let the majority impose obligatory refugee quotas on them.
Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni were among those who demanded that all countries take in a mandatory share of people requiring asylum, who have been concentrated on the Mediterranean coast, or after chaotic movements across Europe, in the richer northwest of the bloc.
“The discussion on migration in general was a step forward. But a hurdle remains. We were not able to overcome the resistance of the Visegrad countries that refuse to abide by the agreement on obligatory relocation,” Gentiloni told reporters on arrival for the second day of the summit.
He added that no concessions could be made on this point and that a deal must be reached next year with the support of all states.