Wednesday

20th Mar 2019

More EU states oppose 'permanent' refugee quotas

  • Kopacz with Rajoy (r) at Thursday's EU summit (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Poland is hoping Spain will help block a European Commission proposal on a “permanent” mechanism for refugee-sharing.

The topic came up at Thursday’s (15 October) summit, in what one EU source called a “heated” debate.

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  • Merkel backed down on summit conclusions, saying a 'lot of work' still to be done on quota accord (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

German leader Angela Merkel wanted summit conclusions to say there’s “need for continuing reflection” on migration policy, including an explicit reference to “proposals put forward by the European Commission”.

Austrian, Dutch, and Swedish leaders backed her up, diplomats told EUobserver.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia said No.

The Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, was “lukewarm”, saying he wants “clarifications” before endorsing the Commission plan.

French leader Francois Hollande also backed softer language in the conclusions.

The summit statement, in the end, dropped Merkel’s phrase and called for reflection only on “overall migration and asylum policy”.

The debate comes after pro-quota states, in September, outvoted the No camp on a one-off Commission scheme to share 120,000 refugees.

It also comes amid warnings the Syria war could see “millions” more people seek EU protection.

The toxic nature of the issue was on show in Poland this week, where opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski spoke of migrant “parasites”.

Right-wing French and German politicians have attacked Hollande and Merkel.

Prague, last month, accused Warsaw of betrayal when it voted Yes on the 120,000 scheme, before returning to the No camp on permanent quotas.

Slovakia also plans to file a case at the EU Court against the 120,000 decision.

Majority?

For her part, Polish PM Ewa Kopacz told press after Thursday’s summit that “many more countries” oppose the permanent scheme than said No to the 120,000.

She also said she’s “ashamed” of Kaczynski’s words.

Poland’s foreign minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, told Polish radio on Friday there’s a “decisive majority” against the permanent mechanism.

He added that if the EU tries to “impose” permanent quotas “it would be a catastrophe for Europe - there would be no agreement”.

Merkel told media she has “only praise” for the Commission’s work.

She added “there are differences of opinion and a lot of work to be done”.

Hollande was wishy-washy.

He said France should take in more migrants. But he said the EU should implement the 120,000 scheme before holding talks on the permanent mechanism.

Spain’s Rajoy also said the EU should first wait and see how the 120,000 scheme works in practice.

Another QMV?

The leaders’ remarks echo lower-level talks.

The Commission put forward its permanent quotas blueprint on 9 September.

An EU Council working group, composed of member states’ officials, has held one round of talks on the document.

“The talks gave Poland hope that Spain might join the No camp”, an EU source said.

“The Spanish official voiced doubt [on permanent quotas], saying they could act as a pull-factor [for more refugees to come]”.

The Commission said Friday it’s “optimistic” that its proposal will get through.

Under the EU qualified majority vote (QMV) system, even if Spain voted No with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, the Yes side would still win.

But a Spanish No would make it harder, in political terms, to railroad the opponents.

An EU source said the Luxembourg EU presidency will more likely seek “consensus” on a compromise plan than call a QMV showdown.

The Slovak PM, Robert Fico, told press after Thursday’s summit that his EU Court case is about due process.

He said “it’s not right” for the EU to impose decisions on sensitive issues, such as immigration, by QMV.

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