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18th Mar 2019

Leaders to avoid Estonian asylum plan at EU summit

An Estonian proposal to break the deadlock on a key migration reform will not be discussed at the upcoming EU summit.

Estonia, which hold the rotating EU presidency until the end of the year, had put forward a plan that aims to resolve the distribution of asylum seekers among EU states as part of a solution to the ongoing 'Dublin' reform impasse.

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The so-called Dublin rule determines who is responsible for processing asylum claims and allows national authorities to send people back to the EU member state where they first entered.

"They will not tackle the Dublin reform specifically, at this stage," said Juri Laas, an EU presidency spokesman in an email on Thursday (30 November).

Instead, he said the hope is the paper discussed on Wednesday would shape future talks. But those talks are unlikely to take place anytime soon.

EU leaders and heads of state gather in Brussels for a summit on 14 and 15 December.

While migration will be on the agenda on the 14th, leaders are likely to eschew the Estonian proposal given the broader political sensitivities on parceling out arriving asylum seekers to member states.

EU parliament says no way

The European Parliament's lead negotiator has also described it as non-starter.

Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Wikstrom said the proposed system "is very far from what could be an acceptable solution for the European Parliament."

The European parliament had come up with its position earlier this month, which included a mandatory relocation of asylum seekers.

But Donald Tusk, the European Council president, had ahead of a summit in October announced that migrant quotas have no future.

Leaders later decided to defer any final decision on the matter until June next year.

The Estonian paper is a follow up to similar proposal floated by the previous EU presidency under Malta, which was shelved.

The Estonians say their plan is different because it places bigger emphasis on prevention, in terms of being able to mitigate any sudden large inflows of asylum seekers and refugees.

The European Commission would take a lead role in determining how many asylum seekers to distribute to member states. Those figures would be divided according to population size and wealth.

An early warning would be triggered should a large inflow arrive, which would then require member states to provide other forms of help aside from taking in asylum seekers.

Relocation of asylum seekers between EU states would only take place if the two agree on a voluntary basis.

None of the EU states are said to be happy with the Estonian plan, which was described by one EU official as "a good sign of compromise" because it offers something for everyone.

The Estonians have also involved the Bulgarians throughout the exercise given Sofia is set to take EU presidency helm in January.

But at the moment, it is unclear if the Bulgarians plan using the paper at all.

The existing system has largely collapsed, with the EU Commission proposing an overhaul, which included a controversial automatic distribution system of asylum seekers.

Those plans were flat out rejected by a handful of member states like Poland and Hungary.

The two, along with the Czech Republic, had already balked an EU-wide asylum relocation scheme that distributed people arriving on Greek and Italian shores to other EU states.

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