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Good morning. Action here in Granada switches from the increasingly amorphous European Political Community summit (47 leaders, no strategic focus, waning enthusiasm) to the slightly more focused informal EU summit (27 leaders, vague structure, contractual obligation to participate).

Laura and our Madrid bureau chief explain how migration links the two meetings, while our Berlin bureau chief previews Sunday’s elections in Germany’s Hesse region.

Hissy fits

The spectre of migration is haunting European leaders. At yesterday’s European Political Community meeting in Granada, the topic overshadowed talks that were meant to focus on conflicts in the European neighbourhood, write Laura Dubois and Barney Jopson.

Context: Immigration into the EU is rising, with almost 210,000 arrivals this year so far, the majority from Syria. Governments have sounded the alarm over capacity issues; some have reinstated border checks.

In Granada, Britain’s prime minister Rishi Sunak organised a meeting on the sidelines with France, Italy, the Netherlands and Albania to “discuss joint action”.

French president Emmanuel Macron publicly thanked Sunak for his efforts. But Spain, the host, was irritated. Madrid had wanted to focus on other issues (such as the war in Ukraine), given EU leaders will discuss migration today. The result: Sunak pulled out of the press conference, which was then cancelled.

Macron said the countries that met on the sidelines were working on a new eight-point plan to tackle irregular immigration, which they wanted to finalise at the next EPC meeting in the UK next year.

It includes ideas that are regularly discussed in Brussels: tackling migration in the countries of origin and efforts to crack down on people smugglers. He said tackling smuggling was “what Rishi Sunak is trying to do with Albania now, with quite good results”. 

Migration has climbed to the top of the political agenda as European governments worry public sentiment on the topic could buoy far-right parties in upcoming European elections.

But for all the prolific discussions and fighting, there is no easy fix.

On Wednesday, EU representatives sealed a deal on the missing piece of the bloc’s momentous asylum and migration reform after years of haggling.

But negotiations with the European parliament will be fraught, as lawmakers and member states are far apart on crucial issues — such as when people should be transferred between countries.

Those transfers are anathema to Poland and Hungary, who oppose the reforms altogether. They say unanimity should be required, although under EU law it is decided by a qualified majority (and they have already been outvoted).

Another topic will be the cash-for-migrants deal with Tunisia, after president Kai’s Saied said he didn’t want the bloc’s money, prompting a piqued reaction from Brussels.

Despite the controversy, there is appetite for more third-country agreements as a quick fix to curb immigration. On principle, “nobody is opposing” deals with other north African countries, one EU diplomat said, mentioning Morocco and Egypt.

Others could be next: Cyprus interior minister Constantinos Ioannou called for further EU assistance to Lebanon, where many Syrian refugees were based: “[The] EU will face huge problems if Lebanon collapses,” Ioannou told the FT.

Chart du jour: Tit for tat

Map showing the location of Neptun Deep gas license in the Black Sea

A Black Sea gas project has become a bargaining chip in the dispute on Romania’s accession to the border-free Schengen area, which Austria has been blocking.

Hesse elects

This Sunday, Olaf Scholz is hoping to overturn 25 years of hurt. 

That’s how long his Social Democrats (SPD) have been stuck in opposition in Hesse, the central German state which from the 1950s to the late ‘90s was an SPD stronghold, writes Guy Chazan.

Context: on Sunday, voters in Hesse and neighbouring Bavaria choose new regional parliaments in elections seen as a litmus test of the national mood two years into chancellor Scholz’s reign.

The SPD invested a lot in the Hesse campaign. It chose as its top candidate Nancy Faeser, who as federal interior minister is one of the most recognisable faces in Scholz’s government.

But the scheme may have backfired. As the number of refugees entering Germany continues to rise, Faeser has become a lightning rod for criticism of the government’s immigration policies. Her contributions to unblocking the EU’s asylum reform seem to have gone unnoticed.

Things are looking similarly bleak for the SPD in Bavaria, where it is polling at just 9 per cent. Polls suggest the conservative Christian Social Union, which has ruled the state for the last 66 years, will win and continue its coalition with the rightwing Free Voters.

In Hesse, Faeser’s SPD is polling at 16 per cent, on level pegging with the Greens and the far-right Alternative for Germany, while the right-of-centre Christian Democratic Union is at 31 per cent. 

Most expect Hesse’s citizens to re-elect the current coalition between CDU and Greens which has governed since 2014. Barring a political earthquake, the SPD could be facing five more years in opposition.

What to watch today

  1. EU leaders meet for an informal summit in Granada.

  2. Nobel Peace Prize to be announced.

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