Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Austrian counterpart, Werner Faymann, had led the charge earlier this week demanding that European leaders come together to sort out the refugee crisis at the continent’s borders.
On Thursday, E.U. Council President Donald Tusk responded to their calls, convening a special summit for next Wednesday.
There will be a long list of discussion topics. Ms. Merkel and Mr. Faymann want the 28-nation bloc to discuss providing more support for the refugees in their home countries, better cooperation with Turkey and the setting up of “hot spots” in Greece and Italy to register the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming towards the continent from war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East.
The leadership summit is an answer to the failure of lower-level ministers to reach a deal. Talks between E.U. interior ministers collapsed last week over how to best distribute the burden among the E.U.’s member states. These ministers will have another go on Tuesday, just before the leaders take charge.
“Better late than never,” was the response of Guy Verhofstadt, the head of the liberal party movement in the European Parliament, to news of the summit.
The European Parliament on Thursday increased the pressure on member states to agree to the distribution of 120,000 refugees across the bloc, voting in favor of the European Commission’s proposal for fixed quotas. “We face a historic test,” said Parliamentary President Martin Schulz.
The challenges have only become more complex in the last few days. Hungary’s controversial policy of shutting its border to Serbia has pushed refugees to look for alternative routes to Europe – most are now moving towards Croatia.
Back home in Germany, however, Ms. Merkel is struggling with a refugee policy without a rudder after the resignation of a key official involved in coordinating the country’s migration response.
Manfred Schmidt, the head of Germany’s refugee office, quit on Thursday following a barrage of criticism of its handling of record numbers of asylum-seekers. Ostensibly, Mr. Schmidt, 56, departed for “personal reasons.” No-one in Berlin believed that and opposition parties claimed he was being sacrificed to shield his boss, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who himself has come under increasing fire.
A look at Mr. Schmidt’s resume shows he’s no stranger to handling emergencies. Before his appointment as president of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in 2010, he spent three years running the interior ministry’s department of crisis management and civil protection.
But the refugee crisis appears to have got the better of him. His departure leaves his office without a chief at a time when it has to process at least 800,000 asylum claims this year – a massive increase on previous years.