By Gabriela Baczynska and Inti Landauro
GRANADA, Spain (Reuters) – Poland and Hungary blocked a symbolic European Union statement about migration on Friday but other leaders gathered at a summit in Spain said they were continuing overhauling the bloc’s rules for handling irregular arrivals anyway.
Some 250,000 people arrived so far this year beyond regular border crossings to the EU, home to 450 million.
Rome, Madrid and Berlin voiced concern about increasing irregular immigration, a politically sensitive matter ahead of regional elections in Germany on Oct. 8, a national vote in Poland a week later and a continent-wide parliamentary ballot next June.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused Germany and Poland’s opposition leader collaborating to push new EU laws fining countries if they refuse to host people arriving from the Middle East and Africa.
“Poland does not agree to have someone else furnishing our home,” said Morawiecki.
His ally and Hungary’s anti-immigration leader, Victor Orban, also accused the EU of forcing a new migration pact.
Out of the EU’s 27 member countries, 22 agreed this week on how to handle irregular immigration at times of exceptionally high arrivals, taking a step towards reforming the bloc’s inefficient asylum and migration rules.
The European Parliament must further negotiate the agreement, something the bloc’s chief executive said on Friday she was confident will produce a final deal.
“We can speak a lot about it, but its on its way now,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
“Migration was always there, it will always be there. The question is how we manage it as team Europe… We cannot accept what human traffickers do and we cannot let them decide who has access to the EU.”
While Poland and Hungary cannot block the EU’s new migration pact and their opposition on Friday was largely symbolic, their harsh criticism raises questions about how effectively the union can implement a deal.
“Election after election, migration tops our citizens’ concerns,” said European Parliament head, Roberta Metsola, who was also present at the summit. “There is no silver bullet, but let’s not kill this pact before we adopt it.”
The EU has tightened its external borders and asylum laws since more than a million people – mostly fleeing the war in Syria – arrived across the Mediterranean in 2015.
That caught the bloc by surprise, overwhelmed security and reception capacity in southern member states, as well as rich destination countries like Germany, and triggered bitter rows between the 27 over how to share out those newly arrived.
Years of disagreements over migration have damaged the bloc’s unity and the feud on Friday suggests that was far from over – deal, or no deal.
Last month, Germany introduced checks on borders with its EU peers, saying they are needed to crack down on people smugglers amid irregular arrivals increasing again.
On Friday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said countries that push the staunchest anti-immigration lines cannot at the same time let refugees and migrants just cross into Germany without registering and hosting them properly on their soil first.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Marine Strauss, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Inti Landauro, Andrey Khalip, Gianluca Semeraro, David Latona, Bart Meijer, Andreas Rinke, Andrew Gray, Belen Carreno; Writing by Charlie Devereux and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Josie Kao)