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17th Nov 2018

Eastern Europeans ease opposition to migrant quotas

  • Warsaw: Kopacz said her country was considering raising the number of migrants it's willing to accept (Photo: metaphox)

Eastern and central European member states have eased their opposition to the EU Commission’s relocation plan for migrants, unveiled on Wednesday (September 9) in Strasbourg.

The scheme would redistribute 160,000 asylum seekers more evenly across the EU, providing relief to frontline states like Greece, Hungary, and Italy, which have seen a surge in refugees and migrants.

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Germany and France have been pushing for the mandatory relocation system, but eastern and central European EU members – which are generally less affluent and have smaller Muslim communities – said the compulsory quota system only serves as an invitation for more people to come.

Reactions from the eastern capitals on Wednesday, however, suggest they may have eased up on their opposition having seen the magnitude of the crisis, or at least are resigned to the possibility of being overruled on quotas.

It seems likely that Berlin and Paris will secure a qualified majority in the council to adopt the Commission’s proposals.

Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz said on Wednesday that Poland was considering raising the number of migrants it was willing to accept, Reuters reported.

“We initially declared accepting 2,000 migrants,” Kopacz said at a press conference in Warsaw.

“Now we're considering raising that number. We want for Poland to have control over who, in what number and when [they] arrive,” she added.

Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico, whose country earlier said it would only take in Christians, said on Wednesday that the Commission’s proposal made several good points, but that his country still opposes the mandatory nature of the system.

Fico said that on issues like protection of the EU's external frontiers the proposal went in the right direction, Reuters reported.

"We appreciate the proposed measures including the protection of EU borders in Italy and Greece. We are ready to contribute financially, and with a military or technical presence," Fico said.

He added: "Quotas are irrational and do not solve anything. Let’s not bend to what Germany and France says."

Fico advocated for an EU summit, saying the issue should be brought to debate by European heads of state.

Echoing that position, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka on Wednesday reiterated his stance against quotas but said that the Czech Republic is ready to participate in other forms of response to the crisis.

Under the Juncker plan, Poland, a country of 38 million people, is supposed to take 9,287 asylum-seekers. It initially agreed to take 2,200 refugees.

The Czechs would take in 4,306 asylum-seekers and Slovakia 2,287. Germany and France would receive the highest numbers.

The Baltic republics were also in opposition, but on Wednesday Latvia’s prime minister Laimdota Straujuma said that her country would abide by its duty to accept migrants if a majority of European Union governments approved the Juncker plan.

Under the Commission’s proposal, Latvia would have to accept a quota of 536 asylum seekers, on top of the 250 it has pledged already.

In an important advance for the qualified majority among EU member states to materialise, Spain – despite struggling after the economic crisis – added its support to the mandatory relocation plan on Tuesday.

"Spain will take the refugees that the European Union asks us to," deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said.

EU justice and home affairs ministers will debate the plan on 14 September. Juncker called on ministers on Wednesday to adopt the Commission’s proposals.

Opinion

Europe's looming dichotomy

Central European leaders are content to receive financial support from Brussels, but are unwilling to share their new-found wealth with migrants seeking a safe-haven in their countries

Hungary boosts border control, holds army exercise

While the number of migrants arriving in Hungary increases by the day, the army holds an exercise to strengthen border control, and the country gets ready to implement controversial new legislation to keep migrants out.

Hungary rejects EU offer to take refugees

The EU's migrant relocation plan would have relieved Hungary of 54,000 asylum-seekers, but Hungary said on Thursday it did not want to have any part in the quota scheme.

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