13:08 GMT23 June 2021
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    European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament President Martin Schulz are holding talks Monday (September 26), alongside and First Vice-President Frans Timmermanns, in an effort to reset the EU agenda following the disastrous summit in Bratislava on September 16.

    Slovakia currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union and the summit was deliberately held in Bratislava — not Brussels — to send out a message that more powers should be returned to member states, amid rising euroskepticism throughout the continent.

    At the heart of Slovakia's first summit under its current presidency was a north-south split over the Eurozone and austerity, as well as an east-west split over immigration. 

    (L-R) German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi arrive for a press conference ahead of talks following the Brexit referendum at the chancellery in Berlin, on June 27, 2016.
    © AFP 2021 / John Macdougall
    (L-R) German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi arrive for a press conference ahead of talks following the Brexit referendum at the chancellery in Berlin, on June 27, 2016.

    The summit ended in a farce, when Italian prime Minister Matteo Renzi refused to share a stage with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.

    "I cannot hold a press conference with [Angela] Merkel and [Francois] Hollande if I don't agree with their positions on immigration and the economy," he said.

    Juncker, Timmermanns and Schulz will need to address the massive issue over immigration. Hungary again made clear in Bratislava that it would continue to oppose the Brussels plan to relocate refugees around Europe via a mandatory quota system — a position Hungary shares with its Visegrad partners, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

    Only 5,290 out of 160,000 refugees have so far been relocated because of opposition to the scheme, backed by Juncker. However, a split has occurred after the Visegrad group proposed an alternative to the quota system — "flexible solidarity" — under which member states would take in refugees on a totally voluntary basis, which Schulz said he would be inclined to accept.

    Refugees and migrants line up for a food distribution at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, November 5, 2015
    © REUTERS / Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo
    Refugees and migrants line up for a food distribution at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, November 5, 2015

    "I'll be glad if the four Visegrad Group countries are ready to talk at least about greater financial involvement. It would be good if we accepted this offer," Schultz said.

    EU-Turkey Deal

    Juncker and Schulz will have to settle that rift ahead of the next EU summit, if there is to be any breakthrough on the immigration front.

    Meanwhile another battle is looming over the controversial EU-Turkey migrant deal, under which the EU was due to pay Turkey — initially — US$3.95 billion to bolster its refugee camps and accept "irregular" migrants denied asylum in Greece in return — on a one-for-one basis —  for Syrian refugees in Turkey being relocated in the EU.

    However, the deal has run into trouble over Erdogan's increasing grip on power, crackdown on opposition parties and the media as well as criticism of his human rights record. 

    Meanwhile, Renzi's refusal to share a stage with Merkel and Hollande is symptomatic of the other chasm in the EU: the backlash by southern members — such as Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal — against the strict austerity measures demanded by the northern states — led by Germany — whose economies are stronger than those near the Mediterranean.

    Juncker, Timmermanns and Schulz have much on their plates as they meet in Brussels Monday evening. With the refugee crisis throwing Schengen wide open and causing deep divisions in Europe, plus the anti-austerity issue within the Eurozone, they also have to deal with the total unknown of Brexit — the UK negotiating its way out of the EU.

    ​The EU is at a crossroads and the events in Bratislava do not bode well for a positive outcome, unless dogmatism gives way to pragmatism.

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    Tags:
    EU-Turkey migrant deal, EU-accession, refugee crisis, Eurozone, migrant crisis, Brexit, EU membership, EU-Turkey migrant deal, European Commission, European Parliament, Frans Timmermans, Martin Schulz, Jean-Claude Juncker, Europe, Brussels
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