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EU leaders agree on stricter measures to tackle irregular migration


European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen holds a joint press conference with European Council President Charles Michel after the EU summit in Brussels. Photo: Nicolas Landemard/Le Pictorium Agency via ZUMA/dpa

European Union leaders agreed on Thursday night in Brussels on a series of measures aimed at reducing the number of irregular migrants arriving to the bloc.

“We will act to strengthen our external borders and prevent irregular migration,” European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said after the EU summit in the early hours of Friday.

The measures agreed on include initiatives to step up protection infrastructure on the border between Bulgaria and Turkey, including cameras and watchtowers.

EU countries also want to recognise each others’ deportation decisions more easily in an attempt to increase deportations, von der Leyen said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was important that EU countries work together on migration whether “it’s about controls at the external borders, improving infrastructure, or cooperation with countries of origin and transit.”

The meeting, which was attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, was initially convened over high numbers of asylum requests and arrivals of irregular migrants to the bloc, which prompted several EU countries to call for stricter measures.

In 2022, authorities registered a 64% increase in irregular border crossings compared to the previous year, according to EU border management agency Frontex. Asylum applications rose by almost 50%.

Additionally around 4 million people have fled to the EU from Ukraine.

Ahead of the meeting, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer called for €2 billion ($2.17 billion) from the EU budget to fund a border fence on Bulgaria’s border with Turkey which is not explicitly mentioned in the adopted declaration.

Despite the agreement, a broader revision of the EU’s migration and asylum rules is still pending.

During the summit, European Union countries also largely endorsed plans by the European Commission to enable more flexible subsidies for climate-friendly technologies to help the European industry compete with the United States and China.

According to a declaration adopted on Friday, states are to be able to grant tax benefits for strategically important industries.

Additionally money from existing EU funds is to be made available to support certain sectors to ensure that competition between individual EU countries is not distorted. No mention is made of taking on new joint debt.

EU leaders also agreed that more must be done to combat the shortage of skilled workers and on the importance of the supply of important raw materials. The topic is due to be again addressed in more detail at the next planned EU summit in March.

EU leaders also called on Serbia and Kosovo to normalize their relations after recent tensions.

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