European Union leaders are considering reforms to address migration as they begin a two-day summit Thursday.
Arrivals to the continent have dropped sharply since a 2015 crisis that drew sharp divisions among the bloc’s 28 members about how they should respond. Some countries promoted more open-door policies, while others set up barriers to prevent those who reached Europe from crossing their borders.
The EU said in 2015 there were more than 1.8 million illegal border crossings into member countries. EU President Donald Tusk wrote in a letter ahead of the summit the number of illegal crossings has dropped by 96 percent since its peak.
Policies already enacted have helped push that number down, notably an agreement with Turkey for the Turkish government to help cut off migration routes and to accept the return of those who make the journey from Turkey to Greece. The EU also began work to tackle the root causes pushing people from their home country.
Tusk is proposing further reforms, including setting up “regional disembarkation platforms” with the possible help of the U.N. refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration where the EU could assess asylum claims outside of its territory, and thus help to disrupt smugglers and the dangerous sea crossings many make to try to reach Europe.
Tusk is also asking EU members to cooperate with countries of origin, particularly Libya.
“More and more people are starting to believe that only strong-handed authority, anti-European and anti-liberal in spirit, with a tendency towards overt authoritarianism, is capable of stopping the wave of illegal migration,” he wrote. “If people believe them, that only they can offer an effective solution to the migration crisis, they will also believe anything else they say. The stakes are very high. And time is short.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was among the most open to accepting migrants during the height of the crisis, is under pressure at home from critics who say Germany has been too welcoming.
She told parliament Thursday before heading to Brussels that she made the right decision in an exceptional situation, but that with the current situation the EU should put in place tighter controls. Merkel said that while there is division among members, they are united in the need to reduce overall migration, stop smugglers and strengthen the EU’s external borders.