29th Feb 2024

Dutch PM: EU needs to sharply reduce refugee numbers

  • Dutch PM Mark Rutte outlines the priorities for the Dutch presidency to MEPs (Photo: European Parliament)

The number of refugees coming to Europe must be vastly reduced in the coming weeks, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday (20 January), as he outlined the priorities for the Dutch presidency of the EU for the next six months.

“We are running out of time. We need a sharp reduction in the coming six to eight weeks,” Rutte warned.

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He told MEPs that tackling the migration crisis would be top of his agenda, and urged states to implement agreements which have already been made.

In particular, he said a deal with Turkey aimed at stemming the flow of migrants in exchange for €3 billion should enter into force, amid rumours of a dispute over the terms of the payment.

He said states should ensure their borders are under control, especially in Greece, and that hotspots - migrant registration centres - should be quickly established in front-line countries, where refugees first enter the EU.

“Sticking to agreements should be a new norm for Europe. A deal is a deal,” Rutte said.

He warned that Europeans are, slowly but surely, growing more sceptical of the EU, which they increasingly regarded as irrelevant to their daily lives.

No grand visions

In typical Dutch style, he said his EU presidency will be pragmatic and realistic.

“Europe doesn’t need grand visions, but results. The EU needs to deliver,” Rutte said.

The prime minister, from the conservative-liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), said the EU isn’t making full use of its potential.

He warned that “€1.25 trillion is being lost by not making full use of the single market”, adding that his presidency wants to facilitate cross-border online shopping and to tackle geo-blocking - national limitations on online services more broadly.

On the renegotiation and referendum of the UK’s EU membership, Rutte warned that the UK “leaving the European Union would be bad for the UK and bad for the EU”.

He didn’t mention the Dutch referendum on ratification of the EU’s association agreement with Ukraine, scheduled for April.

The results will not be binding, but it would cause a political headache for the Dutch presidency.

'Cost of non-Schengen is huge'

Speaking after Rutte, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned about the possible cost of dismantling the Schengen passport-free travel zone.

“Schengen is under threat because we have been in a cavalier manner with Schengen,” he told MEPs, saying Europeans have, belatedly, realised the real cost of closing borders.

He said reintroducing border controls on the bridge between Sweden and Denmark, a decision taken earlier this month because of migrants, could cost €300 million. He did not specify in what time frame.

He also said that if Schengen collapses, it will mean “no free movement of workers” and “no single market.”

“Non-Schengen has a huge cost - if the single market began to suffer … then one day we'll [also] be wondering if we need a common currency,” Juncker said.

He urged member states and MEPs to sign up to the commission’s proposal on joint control of the EU’s external borders.

He also said the commission will agree a text on legal migration possibilities in the next weeks, helping asylum-seekers to avoid making the dangerous journey to Europe to file claims.

EU failing to deliver on migration plans

Three out of 11 hotspots in place. Two hundred and seventy people out of 160,000 relocated: Last year's EU promises to limit and better manage migration flows yet to materialise.

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