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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Zelenskyy, tighter borders and subsidies take center stage at EU summit

At a Brussels summit, European Union leaders agreed to pour funds into hardening borders to keep migrants out. They also welcomed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy but made no promises on EU membership.

(CN) — European Union leaders on Friday agreed to pour much more money into policing the bloc's borders to stop migrants, a move seen as the EU's toughest stance yet against the flow of poor people from Asia and Africa seeking refuge and work in Europe.

EU leaders met at a summit in Brussels where they also welcomed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with more vows of support, including the possibility of sending fighter jets to Kyiv. But the EU stopped short of offering Ukraine quick entry into the union.

They also agreed to loosen restrictions on subsidies in a bid to keep pace with state-driven efforts by the United States and China to bolster the production of high-tech green technologies with the help of subsidies.

The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act by the U.S. Congress has angered EU leaders who fear the bill's “Made in America” provisions are protectionist and will lure European companies across the Atlantic Ocean to take advantage of the U.S. incentives. But loosening subsidies is contentious in Europe for fear that larger and wealthier countries like Germany and France will be able to subsidize their companies at the expense of firms in less wealthy countries.

The agreement to boost spending on border policing and speed up deportations was seen as the summit's biggest development. Many EU leaders left Brussels boasting they had achieved what they had hoped to get.

The number of migrants seeking entry to the EU is spiking and last year reached the highest level since 2016, according to Frontex, the EU's border agency.

Frontex said it recorded 330,000 illegal border crossings last year, a 64% increase from 2021. The vast majority of migrants try to enter the bloc either by land through the Balkans or by crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy and Spain.

Besides large numbers of migrants, the EU is absorbing a massive wave of Ukrainian refugees. Last year saw nearly 13 million Ukrainians flee the war for the EU, though many of those have since returned to Ukraine, Frontex said.

The EU has been racked by disagreements over how to best handle the large flows of people seeking entry into the EU with opinions clashing between those who advocate welcoming migrants and those who see their arrival as both dangerous and a burden. Generally, left-wing politicians and their supporters favor opening borders to migrants while those on the right want to close down the bloc's frontiers.

In recent years, governments have taken ever more extreme measures to stop migrants, such as prosecuting the operators of humanitarian rescue vessels and harshly forcing migrants back across borders.

EU countries have also built an extensive system of fences and barriers along the bloc's borders. Between 2014 and last year, the total length of border barriers has grown from about 195 miles to about 1,270 miles. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer is pushing to help Bulgaria build a $2.1 billion fence along its border with Turkey.

Critics warn that Europe is turning into a fortress and that barriers are both costly and ineffective. Friday's agreement does not specifically approve funds for wall building, but it is nonetheless expected to free up money for such purposes.

The EU's national leaders, meeting as the European Council, said they will target smugglers and speed up deportations of people who enter the union illegally.

The bloc said it will “immediately mobilize substantial EU funds” to reinforce “border protection capabilities and infrastructure, means of surveillance, including aerial surveillance, and equipment.”

Their agreement also says the EU will work to stem migration from the countries where people leave from. The EU plans to boost border policing in those countries, discourage migration through public information campaigns and threaten to impose visa restrictions on countries that don't take in their citizens who have been deported.

Several EU leaders left Brussels saying they had achieved what they had hoped. Far-right, anti-migrant Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said she was “highly satisfied” with the summit.

The highlight of the summit, though, was the appearance of Zelenskyy.

The Ukrainian president spent Wednesday and Thursday on a whirlwind tour of London, Paris and Brussels. In London, he met with King Charles III and delivered a speech to the British Parliament. In Paris, he met with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday evening.

He flew on Macron's airplane to Brussels Thursday and met with EU officials and leaders. He delivered a speech to the European Parliament in which he called on the EU to quickly make Ukraine a member state and provide more weapons to Ukraine.

The EU has pledged its continued support for war-torn Ukraine, but its leaders have stopped short of putting Kyiv on the quick path to membership. The process to become an EU member is long and Ukraine's membership bid will be particularly difficult because of the war.

“There is no rigid timeline,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “It’s a merit-based process.”

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / Government, International, Politics

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