Monday

9th Dec 2019

Anti-migrant quota EU states meet in Prague

  • Prague: Luxembourg foreign minister will try to get quota sceptics on board (Photo: Ron Dauphin)

Foreign ministers from the main opponents of migrant quotas are meeting in Prague on Monday ( 21 September), as refugees continue to criss-cross EU borders.

The Prague event - involving the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, as well as the Luxembourg EU presidency, which supports the quota scheme - comes ahead of two days of talks on the crisis in Brussels.

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Interior ministers will, on Tuesday, try to agree on a European Commission proposal on mandatory redistribution of 120,000 asylum seekers.

EU leaders will then debate wider issues, such as border security and aid to Turkey - which hosts 2 millions refugees - on Wednesday.

For their part, EU ambassadors in Brussels spent the weekend working on draft conclusions for Tuesday’s meeting.

An EU contact familiar with the draft text told EUobserver it no longer contains the Commission’s mathematical "key" on redistribution based on GDP and population size, among other factors. The EU source said this means the mandatory idea is "dead".

But for his part, French leader Francois Hollande said in Morocco over the weekend that, no matter what the technical details of the deal, every EU state must take its fair share.

“No one can be exempt or we would no longer belong to the same union built on values and principles”, he noted.

"We will ensure that this mechanism is effective regardless of its terms, that commitments can be kept and that it's not always the same countries who are receiving the refugees".

German debate

In Germany, the most popular migrant destination and the most pro-migrant EU state, differences are emerging in the ruling coalition.

The interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, from the Chancellor’s centre-right CDU party, told Germany’s Spiegel: "We can’t host all the people from conflict areas and all poverty refugees who want to come to Europe and to Germany".

"The right way would be that we in the EU commit ourselves to fixed, generous quotas for the admission of refugees".

But Sigmar Gabriel, the centre-left SPD’s deputy chancellor, called the idea "nonsense".

"It’s the opposite of what the Chancellor has rightly said, namely that those who arrive in Germany and apply for asylum need a fair procedure", he noted.

"It is not a solution to establish quotas for asylum seekers. Incidentally, it is also contrary to the German constitution".

Nordic leaders, who are seeing more arrivals coming via Russia, also spoke out.

Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said on Sunday: "The entire chain is full of leaks".

He estimated that up to 5 million people could come to Europe in the near future, adding: “If we could trust that the system works and the outer EU borders will function as they should, then I would be open to the idea of raising Finland’s refugee quota significantly”.

Turkey

Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign minister, who met his Luxembourg counterpart in Ankara on Friday, said he has no intention of stopping people from coming to the EU.

“We have to help them go wherever they want, but in an orderly way. Turkey does not have a policy of locking these people in”, Feridun Sinirlioglu told press.

Politicians’ talk aside, the migrants, over the past two days, continued to cross EU internal and external borders, where possible, to get to their preferred destinations.

Croatia’s interior minister, Ranko Ostojic, told the BBC that 27,000 refugees have arrived over the past five days.

Hungary had earlier closed its borders with Croatia and Serbia. It continued to talk tough, with its foreign minister Peter Szijjarto, comparing Hungary’s “defence” of EU borders with its historic role as defender of Europe over the past 1,000 years.

But it is letting people go from Croatia, via Hungary, to Austria, which received up to 15,000 people over the weekend.

Some 7,000 are reportedly waiting in Nickelsdorf, Austria, for onward transport.

A further 2,500 crossed from Croatia into Slovenia. But 4,000 more are stuck in the Croatian border town of Tovarnik.

Germany, which has reimposed border controls, reported 1,985 people crossing on Friday and 1,710 on Saturday.

Northern route

On the northern route, between 350 and 500 people a day are arriving in Finland, its interior ministry said.

The Swedish migration board registered 6,400 asylum claimants last week, and 5,200 the week before.

But in the south, the Aegean Sea crossing from Turkey to Greece continued to claim lives.

Reports say that a helicopter from the EU border control agency Frontex spotted an inflatable boat containing some 20 people trying to get from Turkey to Lesbos, Greece.

The boat had capsized, with survivors saying 26 others had drowned.

Croatia puts migrants on buses to Hungary

Croatia started ferrying refugees to Hungary by bus on Friday, saying it can't cope any more, while also suspending EU rules on registration of newcomers.

EU diplomats tweak text on migrant relocations

Hungary's unused refugee relief quota can go to other states, while relocation refuseniks won't pay fines, according to the latest EU compromise on the migrant crisis.

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Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

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