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24th Sep 2018

Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June

  • Juncker dampened down a pre-summit row, declaring 'Donald Tusk is not anti-European, he is a pro-European' (Photo: European Union)

The prospect of EU states going to a vote next June on a deeply-disputed measure to impose mandatory asylum-seeker quotas on member states appears increasingly likely.

"I am not a fan of qualified majority decision-making but it is in the treaty," European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters on Friday (15 December).

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The issue of assigning a set number of how many asylum seekers each member state must take has underpinned sharp disputes among EU states. The Visegrad four, composed of Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, flat out refuse the concept as opposed to Germany and Italy.

Speaking alongside European Council president Donald Tusk, Juncker said some member states at an EU summit dinner in Brussels on Thursday are prepared to use the vote should a consensus become unattainable.

"Will a compromise be possible? It appears very hard but we have to try our very best," said Tusk.

Tusk described relocation as an insignificant response to migration, which has instead taken disproportionate political dimensions.

"This is the most time consuming issue or dimension when it comes to migration debate," he said.

But any move towards a majority vote in June is anathema among an EU leadership that continues to grapple with the concept of solidarity.

A consensus, they argue, is better suited to rolling out EU-wide policy following the debacle over a two-year scheme to relocate asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other member states.

The 2015 scheme, which ended this past September, has soured relations and resulted in legal battles between the European Commission and the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland - an 'east-west' division of member states Tusk referred to at the opening of the summit on Thursday.

A similar quota scheme is now part of a larger asylum reform proposal to distribute people in need of international protection to EU states on a more permanent long-term basis.

EU leaders are supposed to reach a decision on this reform, also known as the Dublin regulation, by next June.

The broader dispute underlies other realities among thousands stuck in over-crowded Greek islands in the lead up to winter.

"Solidarity on migration is not a theoretical debate," said Oxfam's EU migration policy adviser Raphael Shilhav.

He said those stuck on the Aegean islands are now "paying a daily price that EU leaders are ignoring."

Damage control

Juncker also went into damage control after his migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, labelled Tusk "anti-European" for describing relocation as "highly divisive" and "ineffective".

"Donald Tusk is not anti-European, he is a pro-European," Juncker said, in response to Avramopoulos' comments.

"I know that Avramopoulos as a good commissioner and I think this is a real misunderstanding," he said.

Tusk also weighed in, telling reporters that as European Council president he does not take sides with any group of member states or regions.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia have taken the lead among member states, against Germany, in opposing any system that would require them to accept asylum seekers based on quotas.

"But I do insist on my right and duty, because this is in fact my obligation, to come forward with an honest and factual analysis of the situation," he said.

EU asylum debate reopens old wounds

EU leaders discussed asylum reforms in an effort to reach a consensus by next June, but divisions remain wide as concept of 'solidarity' becomes ever more elusive.

EU states tackle Dublin asylum reform 'line by line'

A Friends of the Presidency group, set up by the Bulgarian EU presidency, has sifted through the European Commission's proposal to reform Dublin, an EU asylum law that has sparked widespread political tensions and divisions.

Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate

Issues of sovereignty remain entrenched following a proposal by the European Commission to expand the EU's border and coast guard, also known as Frontex, to 10,000. But EU leaders maintain a "basic consensus" of support had been reached.

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