Four eastern EU states which have all taken a tough anti-migrant stance crowed victory on Friday over a controversial deal dropping the bloc\’s mandatory quota system in favour of measures designed to stem the influx of asylum seekers.
Hammered out in marathon all-night talks, the deal allows EU members to choose whether they receive migrants, foresees creating secure centres for migrants inside the bloc and "disembarkation platforms" in North Africa.
Hailed as a "big step" by hardline EU members, the deal outraged aid workers saying it would hinder rescue operations at sea.
The idea of imposing financial sanctions on countries refusing to accommodate refugees also disappeared.
Leaders from Visegrad group (V4) countries, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, hailed the new measures as a vindication of their staunch opposition to mandatory migrant quotas.
Poland claimed a "huge success" on the migrant issue as it is locked in a bitter dispute with the EU over judicial reforms that the bloc insists pose a "systemic threat" to the rule of law.
"After more than two years of difficult discussions, controversies and pressure, all the 28 EU states have unanimously adopted the position of Poland and the V4," Poland\’s right-wing Premier Mateusz Morawiecki said on Twitter.
He also hailed the EU\’s "NO for compulsory sharing of migrants and unanimous agreement on reforming the Dublin regulation", which assigns responsibility for asylum seekers to the nation of first entry.
"We were threatened by saying that if we don\’t welcome refugees, we\’ll have to pay… we have remained firm in our position, that we must not pay, because the whole philosophy is wrong and we must know how to defend external borders," he said.
– \’Big fight, big success\’ –
The Polish leader was echoed by populist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, called the new EU migrant deal a "great victory".
"There was a real threat that migrants would be redistributed from refugee camps to European countries," he said, adding that "Hungary will remain a Hungarian country and will not become a country of migrants."
Billionaire populist Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Friday that "quotas were an issue for four years, and now everyone has dropped the topic."
"It was a big fight, the V4 was united and we achieved our goal. It\’s a big success," said Babis, who is fighting fraud allegations at home and has controversially solicited the Czech Communist Party to support his minority coalition government.
Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini struck a more moderate tone on Friday saying that "when it comes to voluntary quotas, I will be very careful."
"Slovakia still feels that the capacity of our facilities is still available and sufficient, where we can temporarily accommodate migrants," he told reported in Brussels.
But Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who governs in coalition with a far-right anti-immigration party, refused to host any secure centres for migrants:
"Of course not… we are not a first arrival country unless people jump from parachutes," said Kurz, who will push the migration issue when Austria takes over the EU\’s rotating six-month presidency in July.
Arrivals have dropped by 96 percent since the peak of Europe\’s migration crisis in 2015 when over a million people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa arrived mostly in EU members Greece and Italy.
But the tough stance of Italy\’s new populist anti-immigration government thrust the issue back to the top of the EU agenda.