EU countries still fighting over mandatory relocation of migrants
Commission prepares latest proposal on migration, but old divisions remain.
With the European Commission preparing to put forward its latest proposal on reforming the bloc’s migration rules, countries have resumed fighting over the topic of mandatory relocation.
In three documents seen by POLITICO, EU countries put forward different viewpoints on mandatory relocation of refugees within the bloc, which they’ve been at odds over since the 2015 migration crisis. Then, the Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker pushed for a mandatory relocation system for asylum seekers but faced resistance from a group of Eastern European countries led by Hungary.
The Commission is now trying again to reform the EU asylum system and is expected to make a presentation later this month — which may be a strategic communication rather than a legislative proposal — on what it wants to do.
The debate is the same as it was in 2015 with the only difference being that “some member states have toughened their positions because of new governments,” said one diplomat, referring to countries such as Estonia, which now has a far-right anti-immigration party, EKRE, in its coalition.
In a two-page document dated June 4, five Mediterranean countries (Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain) call for “a mandatory relocation mechanism entailing the distribution among all Member States of all those who enter the territory” of a European nation, including as a result of search and rescue (SAR) operations at sea.
“We need to find common solutions that will strengthen Europe rather than put forward positions that reawaken old disagreements”— Karl Nehammer, Austria’s interior minister and Mattias Tesfaye, Denmark’s interior minister
The proposal from the Mediterranean countries comes as EU government are negotiating the next long-term EU budget. Frontline states have often accused Eastern European countries of being net beneficiaries of EU money while refusing to take in asylum seekers, while countries from the north and east have accused those in the south of letting migrants irregularly move to other EU countries (so-called “secondary movements”).
In the same document, the five Mediterranean countries touch upon another controversial point when they ask “to overcome the criterion of the responsibility of the country of first entry,” the cornerstone of the so-called Dublin regulation that makes the country of arrival responsible for the asylum claim. “Over the years its application has failed to ensure a fair burden sharing between Member States by concentrating the burden in just a few of them,” they wrote.
But, highlighting how divisive the issue is, in a four-page letter also dated June 4 and seen by POLITICO, the interior ministers of Austria and Denmark rejected this call.
“We need to find common solutions that will strengthen Europe rather than put forward positions that reawaken old disagreements,” wrote Karl Nehammer, Austria’s interior minister (from the center-right People’s Party) and his Danish counterpart Mattias Tesfaye (a social democrat who is the face of the center-left party’s new hard line on migration).
“Automatic and mandatory relocation of migrants and asylum seekers, including after SAR operations, is such a position,” they said in the letter sent to Margaritis Schinas and Ylva Johansson, the two commissioners in charge of migration. Mandatory relocation “not only carries the risk of establishing a pull factor which will increase irregular migration to Europe” but it will also “endanger the possibilities of finding common ground on a new asylum and migration policy as a whole.”
The two ministers call for a compromise: “While showing solidarity should be mandatory, Member States should be given flexibility when it comes to concrete solidarity measures,” they said, suggesting solidarity can be provided in other forms and not only by taking in asylum seekers.
That’s also basically the line of many Central European and Baltic countries.
In another four-page letter, dated June 3 and sent to the same commissioners, but this time by the interior ministers of Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, they don’t deny that they have to provide help but call for the mandatory part to be “border procedures” and not the relocation (“we must reiterate our strong objection to mandatory relocation of asylum seekers and migrants in any shape or form,” they said).
They support the idea of providing solidarity in other forms and talk about “further strengthening of solidarity with the front-line Member States with extended financial, technical, operational and expert support provided by the EU, its agencies and Member States.”