EU at odds on meaning of migrant 'solidarity'
Europe's display of unity in Rome over the weekend came under pressure as EU interior ministers gathered to discuss migration on Monday (27 March).
The talks held in Brussels were billed as an "exchange of views" and "stock taking" exercise.
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But the political realities quickly surfaced as the most pressing migration reforms and issues remained unresolved.
Ministers remained at odds over the EU principle of “solidarity" and how it should apply in a key asylum rule known as Dublin, which determines who is responsible for handling applications.
Another contested principle was "relocation", with mounting resistance against the scheme now also emerging from Austria's minister of defence.
Attempts to distribute refugees from Greece and Italy to other EU states under the European Commission’s relocation plan have failed to produce meaningful results.
"No more excuses and I have repeated that again. There should be no more talk about relocation, but delivery. With Spring approaching, there is no time waste," said EU migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, on Monday.
The initial relocation target was 160,000 but EU states have only distributed around 15,000 people.
Avramopoulos wanted at least 3,000 located per month from Greece and around 1,500 from Italy.
France's interior minister, Matthias Fekl, told journalists: “Europe can only advance together on this and all those who want you to believe that a country on its own can respond to long-term global challenges are liars”.
Solidarity - Dublin
Speaking to reporters ahead of Monday’s meeting, Luxembourg's interior minister, Jean Asselborn, said "solidarity" must be turned into action following the Rome declaration on European integration.
But despite weeks of wrangling in bilateral meetings, the EU presidency under Malta is struggling to get governments to agree on what "solidarity" means in the context of the reform of the Dublin law.
"There are the elements of solidarity and responsibility ... we are trying to break down the issues into different components and trying to strike a balance between the two," a senior EU official told reporters last week.
The European Commission's reform proposal has generated sharp criticism by NGOs and the Greek government.
"It [Dublin reform] will destroy Greece, it will destroy Europe in the future and it will create enormous problems for the refugees and migrants themselves," Greece's asylum minister Yiannis Mouzalas told MEPs in the civil liberties committee earlier this month.
The Maltese EU presidency plans to propose a revised version of Dublin sometime next month.
Should no consensus be reached by June, it may have to resort to a vote
But such a vote would likely trigger a political backlash among some anti-migrant EU states such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
Slovakia and Hungary court case
The same voting method was used to push through the failing relocation scheme, which is now being contested at the European Court of Justice by Hungary and Slovakia.
Neither case has reached a settlement despite both being lodged at the end of 2015.
"It looks like we are still waiting for a date for the hearing," said a contact at the Luxembourg-based court.
Another contact at the court said both cases were still in the written stage of the proceedings.
An oral stage then follows, at which point an advocate-general will issue an opinion. The whole process usually takes on average between 18 months and two years.
A ruling on either is unlikely before the EU’s self-imposed deadline of September to meet the relocation targets.