European Union leaders who held a late night summit towards the early hours of Friday morning in Brussels have agreed to relocate tens of thousands of migrants in an effort to share the growing burden on Italy and Greece but rejected mandatory migrant quotas.
Despite several hours of sparring between EU leaders, European Union Council President Donald Tusk said an agreement was reached to show “solidarity with frontline countries.”
EU leaders agreed on a voluntary scheme to share the 60,000 migrants over the next two years.
However, Hungary which has seen thousands of migrants reach it borders, and Bulgaria, which is considered to be EU’s poorest member, have both been exempted from the scheme.
Although EU leaders have agreed on the relocation of the refugees, member states failed to outline a criteria for sharing migrants, which in turn delayed the process until the end of July.
“We have to find out if the system works. It doesn’t matter if it is voluntary or mandatory, it is whether it can help 60,000 refugees,” European Union Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters at a news conference after the summit.
Leaders engaged in a heated debate over whether to take in 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers now in Italy and Greece as well as another 20,000 people currently outside the EU.
The debate intensified after Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lashed out at fellow EU leaders for failing to come to an agreement on mandatory quotas for migrants.
“If that’s your idea of Europe, you can keep it. Either give us solidarity or don’t waste our time,” said Renzi, according to Deutsche Welle, referencing diplomatic sources.
“If you don’t want to take the 40,000 you are not fit to be called Europe,” said Renzi
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also commented on the summit, said that “It was a very intensive debate. [Migrant crisis is] the biggest challenge I have seen in European affairs in my time as chancellor.”
Reuters cited an EU source as stating that two EU’ top officials, Tusk and Juncker, also clashed at the meeting as they opposed one another’s ideas.
Juncker, who leads the European Commission, proposed the mandatory migrant quota system on May 13 - stating that the 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean migrants currently in Europe should be redistributed according to a compulsory system.
However Tusk opposed the quota system, questioning the legal aspects behind the EU’s plan to handle the migration crisis, Reuters reported.
The EU summit which started on Thursday has prioritised dealing with the migrant crisis and is aiming to solely focus security issues on Friday.