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16th Feb 2019

EU stands by unloved migrant quotas

  • "Solidarity has to be felt, the application of community law is not optional," the commission says (Photo: Reuters)

Solidarity and the EU relocation system for asylum seekers are two different things, a European Commission spokesman has said.

"Solidarity has to be felt. It has to come from the heart, it's not something that can be dictated by law or by directive. But this has nothing to do with the application of community law, which is not optional," Margaritis Schinas told journalists on Monday (19 September).

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He had been asked whether the two-year plan to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece to other EU countries that was launched a year ago was still binding or not.

Last week, in his state of the Union speech, commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that "when it comes to managing the refugee crisis … solidarity must be given voluntarily."

At Monday's commission press point, Schinas that Juncker's words did not mean a change of position by the EU executive.

"Relocation obligations are enshrined in European law," he said, adding that the plan was "under implementation", even though "not at the rate we would have liked."

When it presented its relocation plan last year, the commission said it was "a solidarity mechanism for all member states."

In May, in its proposal to reform the Dublin asylum system, the commission said member states who do not accept to relocate asylum seekers would have to pay €250,000 per person in their unfulfilled quota.

"There's simply no way around it: whenever a member state is overwhelmed, there must be solidarity and a fair sharing of responsibility within the EU," commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said at the time.

On Monday, Schinas declined to say whether the commission still stuck to that position. He said the proposal was "subject to colegislation" and was "not at all comparable" with the current relocation mechanism.

On Friday, the 27 EU leaders meeting in Bratislava said in a common declaration that EU consensus needed to be broadened, "including on how to apply the principles of responsibility and solidarity in the future."

The declaration was agreed under pressure by the so-called Visegrad Four countries - Hungary, Slovakia, the Cezch Republic, and Poland - who said in a joint statement that "migration policy should be based on the principle of 'flexible solidarity'."

Two members of the group, Slovakia and Hungary, have refused to implement the relocation mechanism agreed last year, with the cases due in courts.

The commission spokesman also declined to say whether "voluntary" and "flexible" solidarity are the same policy concepts.

Eight EU states take migrants stranded on NGO boats

France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania have agreed to relocate the 49 migrants stuck on two NGO boats moored, for almost three weeks, off Malta's coast.

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