Europeans resist ‘mad’ EU refugee quota plan
Key European governments are fiercely resisting an EU plan that would force the bloc’s 28 member states to share the burden of hosting refugees in the wake of the migrant tragedies in the Mediterranean.
The European Commission unveils the plan Wednesday and is facing push back from powerful member states such as Britain and the eastern Europeans, with Hungarian premier Viktor Orban calling the proposal “mad”.
The proposal, seen by AFP on Sunday, complements a separate push by Europe to launch a military campaign off the coast of Libya to stop human trafficking that the EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini will bring to the UN in New York on Monday.
More than 5,000 migrants, many escaping conflict, have died over the past 18 months as boats operated by smugglers have capsized off of Libya, triggering alarm among European leaders seeking to halt the flow.
“The EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among Member States,” said the draft of the proposal from the EU’s executive seen by AFP.
The quota plan is being driven personally by European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, with the strong backing of Germany, European officials said.
The proposal will go before EU heads of government and heads of state at their June 25-26 summit.
With the flow of migrants expected to grow in the summer “the proposal will include a distribution mechanism for persons in clear need of international protection to ensure a fair and balanced participation of all Member States to this common effort,” the draft said.
In the final proposal on Wednesday, sources said Juncker may fix at 20,000 the EU-wide quota for refugees when several European governments wanted a vague requirement and based on voluntary basis.
“Juncker wants a required quota of refugees, but this is practically seen as a declaration of war” by certain member states, a top European official told AFP.
-‘Mad and unfair’-
The 20,000 would then be spread among the member states according to country’s population, GDP, unemployment level and historical track record as a host for asylum seekers.
“Six countries — Germany, Britain, France, Sweden, Italy, Belgium — take on board 80 percent of asylum seekers in the EU,” said former Belgian Prime minister and MEP, Guy Verhofstadt.
“13 countries do nothing, take zero responsibility,” he said.
On the front lines of the EU’s migrant crisis, Italy is the strongest backer of Juncker’s plan.
Rome had hoped the proposal would include the sharing of economic migrants and not just asylum seekers, but the opposition to that remains seemingly insurmountable.
“We reject this approach as it will only make the problem worse,” said Manfred Weber, a leading European lawmaker from Juncker’s own centre-right conservatives.
If we accept economic migrants, “we will lose any support to bring in the refugees,” he added.
Hungary is one member state that has faced a huge influx of refugees recently, mainly from Kosovo, but also Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Many move on to Germany or Austria.
“The European idea that somebody allows refugees into their own country and then distributes them to other member states is mad and unfair,” Orban said on Friday.
Orban like many of his European partners is facing an opposition upsurge of anti-immigrant populism.