26th Oct 2016

Learn to love migrant quotas, Juncker tells eastern EU

  • "It’s not the EU, but some member states that are failing on refugees," said Juncker (r) during the debate with Schulz (l). (Photo: European Commission)

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has dismissed claims that he abandoned a proposal to relocate migrants under national quotas.

“I remain attached to the idea that we need to answer the migration crisis with solidarity and the heart,” he said on Tuesday (27 September) during a debate with Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament.

Earlier this month, Juncker had seemed to disavow the idea when saying, in his annual speech of the union, that solidarity cannot be imposed from above. He now rebuffed such interpretations.

“What I did say was that measures cannot be imposed just by the wish of those who want to impose them and that we need to bring eastern and western Europe together on this issue,” he explained.

When a journalist noted that the gulf between eastern and western member stated seemed to be widening, Juncker replied: “We know from personal life that it’s quite unusual to be struck by love. For love to be born, we need to give it necessary time.”

The quota proposal was cast last year with the aim of distributing asylum seekers more evenly among the bloc.

EU not failing

Hungary and Slovakia have since challenged the idea in the EU's top court, and Hungary is holding a referendum on Sunday on the issue.

Juncker said Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban was targeting the commission and parliament with criticism over the proposal, but in fact EU governments had approved the scheme and most of them still backed it.

“It’s not the EU, but some member states that are failing on refugees,” Juncker said.

EU parliament's Schulz tuned in saying Orban was misleading voters and should stop dividing the EU.

“The EU is based on compromise, not on confrontation,” he said.

“Europe was always strong when there was a spirit of unity. Eastern countries are asking for solidarity on economic development, on Russia, but have none of it when it comes to refugees. Solidarity is a principle, not cherry picking.”

The two leaders gathered in Brussels’ Solvay library for a political programme on France 24, a TV channel.

They answered questions on the future of Europe sent in by viewers in two discussions, in English and French.

During the debates, Juncker reiterated his support for another term for Schulz as leader of the European Parliament after his mandate expires at the end of the year.

“We should try to ensure stability in times of crisis,” Juncker said. “Those who are there and work almost exemplary can continue.”

Schulz has already been in office for two terms, and his efforts to win a third, as well as Juncker’s support for him to do so, have vexed MEPs from opposing blocs. The post is usually divided between the parliament’s two largest groups, but Schulz showed willing to break against this custom.

The German Social-Democrat said he took note that many people were thinking of his future, adding: “And some seem to think I am doing a good job.”

This text was updated on Thursday to clarify that Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz participated in two shows for France 24, one in French and another English. They didn't say exactly the same things in the two programmes. This article mostly quotes from the French interview.

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