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EU refugee policy

Interview: Dagmar Breitenbach December 3, 2015

In interviews with several European newspapers, European Council President Donald Tusk called for a u-turn in European refugee policy. How helpful are his remarks in finding a much-needed compromise?

Donald Tusk
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Seeger

Irregular migrants to Europe should be detained for as long as needed to check their identity, Donald Tusk has said, urging Europe not to underestimate the security threat presented by the influx of refugees: "It's too easy to get into Europe," he said, asking his EU partners not to "downplay the role of security."

Both the one-sided focus, which outs him at loggerheads with German chancellor Angela Merkel among others, and the timing of the remarks are a bit baffling, according to Brussels-based EU expert Janis Emmanouilidis.

DW: What can European Council President Donald Tusk hope to achieve with his warnings and tough calls for Europe to put a lid on the influx of migrants?

Janis Emmanouilidis: Donald Tusk has always been focused more on the security dimension of the refugee/migration crisis, but why he is now, particularly at this point in time addressing it in that kind of a concerted action doesn't really make sense because there's the need to forge a compromise at the European level which is already very difficult and in his position as President of the European Council, it would make sense to have a kind of balanced approach in order to be able to strike a compromise.

Janis A. Emmanouilidis
Tusk's job is to forge a compromise, says Janis EmmanouilidisImage: DW

Tusk emphasizes a priority to protect the external frontiers of Europe's passport-free Schengen zone - but what about the humanitarian aspect that prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door policies?

There's a clear emphasis on all the issues related to security whereas issues related to the humanitarian crisis and the need to assist people who are fleeing their countries - all these dimensions that are also obviously key dimensions of what we're witnessing - are not being highlighted by him. He's already done that in the past, which also led to some disagreements between him and the German government. It's difficult to understand why he now addresses the issue from such an unbalanced perspective which doesn't make his job easier.

Does Tusk's move come as a surprise to you?

Yes - we've seen him focus more strongly on security issues in the past, but under the current circumstances, from a political point of view, it's surprising why he is again invoking that strong of an emphasis on the security dimension which is not helpful with respect to finding a compromise.

What's the reaction likely to be throughout the EU?

We're going to see different reactions. For those with a strong inclination to look at the security dimension, they will obviously be applauding him. But there are others - among them Germany, Sweden, partially the Netherlands, Austria - where you will have very critical voices. In general, many will be asking: How does that help find a compromise?

Could Tusk have made his remarks with an eye on Polish domestic politics, given the government's swing to the right?

It could be that this is something he has in his mind. However, I doubt that, given the strong opposition between him and his party and the new ruling government in Warsaw, it would help him with respect to his position vis-à-vis the Law and Justice Party and in general vis-à-vis the new government in Poland.

Janis Emmanouilidis is a Senior Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre (EPC) think tank, based in Brussels. Since October 1, 2013, he hs also held the post of the EPC's Director of Studies.