Brussels: EU leaders failed early Friday to narrow the east-west gap over how to deal with migrants coming to Europe and face a big task ahead to reform asylum rules by a deadline of June next year, summit participants said.
During more than two hours of what one called "fierce" debate, eastern European leaders stood firm against refugee quotas which the majority adopted in 2015 as a form of solidarity with frontline states Greece and Italy.
The stubborn divide contrasts with broad agreement among the leaders to continue shoring up Europe's external borders through cooperation deals with third countries like Turkey and Libya.
"Solidarity cannot exist only in the external dimension, but must also exist in the internal one," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters following the summit. "Here we still have a lot of work to do. The points of view did not change. But there is a clear task to continue working until June next year," Merkel said. European Council President Donald Tusk irked some nations when he said in a pre-summit letter that a mandatory quota scheme for relocating refugees from frontline states was "ineffective" and "highly divisive".
Eastern European states Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have backed his approach, but Germany and others say the quotas are a necessary way of showing solidarity in the EU. Merkel's 2015 decision to open the doors to one million asylum seekers was blamed by a number of European leaders, particularly Hungary's Viktor Orban, for worsening the migration crisis.