BRUSSELS – EU leaders meet in Brussels for two days of talks on migration that German Chancellor Angela Merkel described as “make or break” for the union.
They will also discuss security, trans-Atlantic trade and their troubled ties with U.S. President Donald Trump, economic sanctions on Russia, the bloc’s next long-term budget from 2021, the euro zone reform and Brexit, among others.
Below please find the leaders’ comments before the summit starts in Brussels later on Thursday.
GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL
“We can talk about landing ships (of migrants) in other countries, for example in North Africa. But we need to talk with these countries. We can’t do this over their heads. The EU-Turkey deal was one that both sides agreed to. So we need to talk about the needs of these countries. We need to do this together with the UNHCR and the IOM.
“Defense of our external borders is something which unites Europe. (We will talk about ) the issues of Frontex, border protection, secondary migration. The countries that are receiving a lot of refugees need support. But the refugees and migrants can’t choose in which country they request asylum.”
ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER GIUSEPPE CONTE
“As you know, Italy has worked on a proposal which it brings to this European Council, a proposal we believe is completely reasonable because it is in line with the spirit and the principle on which the European Union is based. Over all these years and in the meetings with the leaders of other member states, I have seen many expressions of solidarity. Today is a very important day. We hope these words will be translated into action. Italy no longer has a need for words and statements, we need concrete acts. This is the right occasion. From that point of view this meeting will be a watershed as far as we are concerned. And as far I am concerned I am willing to draw the needed consequences.”
EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT DONALD TUSK
“Since 2015, we have managed to stem the migratory flow by 96% only because we decided to cooperate with third countries and to bloc illegal migration outside the EU.”
“That is why I am urging that at the summit we focus on the EU’s external border, including the disembarkation platforms project.”
“The alternative is a chaotically advancing closure of borders, including inside the EU, as well as growing conflicts among EU member states.”
“Some may think I am too tough in my proposals on migration. But trust me, if we don’t agree on them, then you will see some really tough proposals from some really tough guys.”
AUSTRAIN CHANCELLOR SEBASTIAN KURZ
“It seems as if today we will manage a shift in migration policy. That’s important because we have asked a systemic change for years. For years we have asked to reduce the number of people coming to Europe illegally. I think that is possible today.”
POLISH PRIME MINISTER MATEUSZ MORAWIECKI
“The discussion is moving in the direction which we always have stressed it should move toward – namely more action regarding external EU borders … and even more action in third countries which surround the EU because we want to provide the fishing rod not the fish, to motivate people to stay in places from which they migrate to the EU.”
“We push for action based on consensus, not imposed relocation. We are against imposed relocation. As regards secondary migration, Poland has tough asylum regulations and will stick to these tough asylum regulations. Poland’s sovereign policy on relocation must be maintained.
FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON
“This summit will also be the place for an important discussion on immigration. This is not a new issue. Europe has been living with it since 2015. We all face a simple choice: do we want national solutions or do we believe in European solutions and cooperation? For my part, I will defend European solutions, in cooperation, in the European Union and under Schengen. We need cooperation under the current agreements that we have and to modernize them. There is work to do beyond Europe’s borders, on Europe’s borders and within Europe based on two principles: responsibility and solidarity.”
SLOVAKIAN PRIME MINISTER PETER PELLEGRINI
“The biggest priority in this moment is to protect our external border. First we have to start to do this and after that we can continue to discuss about was is happening inside the European Union.”
HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER VIKTOR ORBAN
“The main issue is not migration, the issue is democracy in Europe … it is about what the people believe, what should be done.”
SPANISH PRIME MINISTER PEDRO SANCHEZ
“What we need is a common response to a common challenge, which is migration and we have to combine responsibility with solidarity. Responsibility in order to control our frontiers, to intensify our foreign and external dimension of the migration policy. And solidarity also with regards to other countries especially Germany which is now suffering a political crisis.”
LUXEMBOURG PRIME MINISTER XAVIER BETTEL
“I think we have to discuss everything. If we have countries saying this and that is a red line we will never get an agreement. Legal immigration has to be the rule.”
“There are so many people who arrived in different countries and then made their way to Germany. I understand Germany says ‘Why do we have to deal with everything?’”
FINNISH PRIME MINISTER JUHA SIPILA
“We have practical problems (on secondary migration) in Finland and Finland is ready to cooperate with Germany.”
IRISH PRIME MINISTER LEO VARADKHAR
“We’re not going to be preparing for a hard border on the island of Ireland and we’re not going to agree to anything that would give rise to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
“If we have a no-deal Brexit, that’s unlikely but possible, then the United Kingdom will essentially crash out of the customs union and the single market, will not be able to trade freely any more with any part of the European Union, will be losing access to a market of 500 million people and that would require us to make preparations at ports, airports for that kind of scenario. And that’s the kind of thing that we will be doing. Other countries are going to do that too… It’s an important issue for Rotterdam or Calais, ports in the Netherlands, Belgium and France, so we’ll have to make preparations for that, even though it’s a very unlikely scenario.”
“The deadline for a withdrawal agreement has always been October and that’s been the case from day one. However, we did expect that we would make more progress, or any progress, at this summit in June…. That hasn’t been. What I will be saying to Prime Minister May is that we all need to intensify our efforts now. All of us want there to be a deal, we need a deal, Europe needs a deal, Britain needs a deal too, but as we agreed back in December and March, there can be no withdrawal agreement without an agreement on an Irish backstop.”
“We as 27 member states are willing to be more flexible but in order to be flexible, the United Kingdom needs to soften some of its red lines.”
“It can’t be cherry-picking, it can’t be cake and eat it. It needs to understand we’re a union of 27 member states, 500 million people. We have laws and rules and principles and they can’t be changed for any one country, even a great country like Britain and any relationship that exists in the future between the EU and the UK isn’t going to be one of absolute equals.”
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY
“I will be reiterating my commitment to the EU security and prosperity now, and when we leave. As regards our discussions on Brexit I look forward to talk with fellow leaders on the good progress we’ve made on the withdrawal agreement and looking forward to securing our strong future partnership.
Both sides are keen to continue that work at a faster pace than we have done up till now and certainly we’d welcome that.
We have been setting out throughout these negotiations our position and of course at every stage, we have come to agreements with the European Union on issues which we discussed.
Now we will be bringing the cabinet together within the next week, we will be then be publishing a white paper setting out in more detail what strong partnership the United Kingdom wants to see with the EU in the future.
It is clear that we have already have been able to encourage and get flexibility from the European Union on matters. I will be setting out our position for the future.”
DUTCH PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE
“I’m not losing patience, but time is getting shorter and shorter to come to an agreement.
“I do understand that it is difficult to come to agreements within her cabinet and within the UK parliament, but she has to.”
“The problem is to whom should be listen. Our point of contact of course is Theresa May. I know she is working day and night to solve this, but the first issue on the table to solve is the problem of the Irish border. That is crucial and there has to be a backstop that is not temporary, but is continuous in case we are not able to solve this problem in the future.”
“I don’t want to speak in apocalyptic terms, but I believe the first, second and third priorities now is solving the issue of the Irish border. When that is solved, then so many other issues will be easier to discuss.”
SPANISH PRIME MINISTER PEDRO SANCHEZ
“We will have a tete-a-tete meeting with Prime Minister May…. Will look forward to continue with the negotiations and with this constructive approach that the Spanish government is having.”
Question: Are you disappointed with slow progress on Brexit?
Answer: “No, I won’t say that. Absolutely not.”
GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL
“We will talk about whether we, the European Union, enter into talks with the United States in order to prevent a spiral of trade barriers.”
FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON
“We will have a discussion on trade, with the objective of preserving European trade sovereignty, and I am pleased that at this stage the Council’s conclusions have taken up proposals that we have made on the indispensable reform of the WTO and a firm desire not to give in to any edicts but to defend European interests and global trade multilateralism.”
By Robert-Jan Bartunek, Jan Strupczewski, Gabriela Baczynska, Noah Barkin, Philip Blenkinsop, Richard Lough, Francesco Guarasco – Reuters