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22nd Feb 2020

EU engulfed in migrant 'quota' battle

  • An Amnesty International demonstration in support of asylum seekers in Brussels. EU member states are resisting the Commission's plan to distribute refugees across Europe. (Photo: Amnesty International)

The European Commission’s plan to relocate asylum seekers in Europe is in danger of being killed off by reluctant member states.

Less than a week after it was announced, on 13 May, 10 countries have signaled opposition.

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Hungary's PM Viktor Orban has said the plan is "madness" and France’s Manuel Valls called it "a moral and ethical mistake".

Other countries, including Spain and Poland, say they oppose the way the commission wants to distribute asylum seekers - according to population size, wealth, and the number of migrants already hosted.

Spain’s foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, declared on Monday (18 May) that his country is "ready to fulfill all the support efforts asked of us, but this should be proportionate, fair and realistic”. He added that "the criteria used by the commission are not."

Poland’s Ewa Kopacz said last week she is "in favour of voluntary decisions on this issue".

With anti-immigration parties on the rise in many EU countries, the reactions are as much a symptom of their growing influence on public debate as an attempt by governments to limit this influence.

After the commission's migration plans were unveiled last week, headlines across Europe, as well as national politicians, spoke of "migrant quotas", suggesting the EU plans to impose set numbers of foreigners on member states.

"It's out of the question to have immigrant quotas because we have rules [against this],” French president Francois Hollande said on Tuesday.

The word quota, however, is nowhere in the commission’s proposal.

The EU executive only referred to asylum seekers and refugees, which are distinct categories of migrants that imply a need for international protection.

There is also confusion over what would trigger a "relocation system" and what the commission means when it says measures would be "temporary".

The timing of the presentation on migrant relocation - on 13 May, just before the EU institutions closed for a four-day break - left plenty of space for interpretation by national governments.

In addition, the relocation plan was mixed up with another plan, presented the same day, on resettling 20,000 refugees from outside Europe.

"We have a communication problem, and maybe you can help us," an EU spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday.

But for his part, commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was the first to use the word "quota”, in late April at the European parliament, when said he would "appeal for the establishment of a quota system".

The commission will present legal proposals next week after consulting member states. It is expected that its initial plan will be watered down.

In an op-ed published in the La Croix newspaper on Tuesday evening, French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve set out a possible compromise.

He wrote that "France is in favour of a mechanism of solidarity repartition at a European level”, but under "strict conditions".

"First, entry countries must rigorously assume their Schengen obligations. They must in particular distinguish between migrants in need of protection and illegal ‘economic’ migrants who have to be sent back to their country of origin," Cazeneuve wrote.

Germany, the country that would accept the most asylum seekers under the commission plan, has not taken a position.

"There are many questions that deserve examination," chancellor Angela Merkel said at a press conference with Hollande on Tuesday.

"I am sure that on that we will have a Franco-German position soon."

France opposes EU migrant quotas

France and Poland have joined a growing list of EU states opposed to the European Commission's migrant quota proposal.

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