19th Mar 2018

EU migrant quota idea is finished, Fico says

Slovak prime minister Robert Fico, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, has declared the idea of migration quotas “politically finished”.

"Quotas today clearly divide the EU, therefore I think they are politically finished," he told journalists in Bratislava on Monday, according to Reuters.

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The quotas were introduce last year at the peak of the refugee crisis with an aim to distributing asylum seekers streaming into the continent among European Union member states based on solidarity.

Slovakia, along with Hungary, has challenged last year’s council decision to distribute 120,000 asylum seekers at the EU’s top court.

Hungary will hold a referendum on Sunday where voters are expected to reject EU migration quotas.

Despite its opposition, Slovakia's EU presidency meant it was charged with attempting to push through the commission’s quota proposal under the reform of the EU's Dublin asylum system.

So far around 5,200 were relocated from the 160,000 asylum seekers that were to be sent across the EU, according official data.

'Official EU policy'

The Visegrad countries - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - have long opposed the scheme, and presented an alternative proposal at the Bratislava Summit two weeks ago.

It calls for “flexible solidarity”, whereby countries that do not want to take migrants could contribute to the EU’s migration policy with other means, financially, with equipment or manpower, something the Visegrad countries are already doing in the Balkans.

The Visegrad proposal argues for taking into account the "potential and experience" of each member state when deciding on the number of refugees it could accept.

After the Bratislava meeting German chancellor Angela Merkel, who pushed her EU partners to sign up to the quota plan, conceded some level of flexibility was needed.

“The statement of V4 and the proposal to add flexibility and look at possible solutions is a positive proposal,” she said after the meeting in Bratislava.

EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker also agreed that countries should be allowed not to take in refugees in exchange for other forms of help.

Last week, he told the European Economic and Social Committee that if Hungary and Poland cannot take in refugees, they could do more with regards to protection of the EU’s external border.

The idea of flexibility also seems to have taken hold in the European Parliament, which has so far backed the commission’s mandatory quota plans.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz told the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung over the weekend that the Visegrad proposal needs to be taken aboard.

"I welcome it if now the Visegrad countries are willing to talk about a greater financial commitment. We are well advised to take this offer, " he said.

Manfred Weber, leader of the largest group in the EP, the conservative European People’s Party also told the newspaper: "More flexible solidarity is the only way, as we move forward".

"What the Visegrad countries – including Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland – have been saying for a year and a half now becomes official EU policy," Fico said on Monday.

"Whoever wants to divide Europe, let them put quotas on the table, who wants to unite Europe, let them come up with a different concept of fight against illegal migration."

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