EU to relocate 40,000 migrants across the bloc: first step of a long due substantial reform?

Press conference by Dimitris Avramopoulos, Member of the EC, on the first proposals of the EC's comprehensive approach to improving the management of migration (EC Auidovisual Services, 27/05/2015).

Press conference by Dimitris Avramopoulos, Member of the EC, on the first proposals of the EC’s comprehensive approach to improving the management of migration (EC Auidovisual Services, 27/05/2015).

The European Union aims to propose the relocation of up to 40,000 asylum seekers who have arrived by boat to the Southern European countries like Italy and Greece across other member states in the next two years. The proposal, which has been fully unveiled by the EU last Wednesday, is part of the plans to reform the entire EU migrants handling system.

This comes as a response to what it is widely considered as an emergency situation for southern countries and a humanitarian crisis with no precedent. If this will actually happen, it would represent a good step forward in the delicate EU migration matter that is threatening the EU today.

The current proposal

The proposal follows the plans announced last week for the European Union to take in 20,000 asylum-seekers  that are currently living outside the bloc. The Commission has also set out proposals to have member states accepting a quota system, based on the country’s size and economic wealth, for the times in which Europe faced a sudden, heavy flux of migrants and asylum seekers.

Under the proposed scheme, which is based on a distribution key, Germany would accept the most asylum seekers, or a total of 8,763 (21.91%), while France would take in 6,752 (16.88%). Spain, on the other hand, would take in 4,288 people (almost 11%) over the next two years, as specified.

According to sources revealed by Reuters and the Financial Times last week, under the proposals, asylum seekers from countries with a “75% success rate for applications”, such as Syria and Eritrea, will be automatically relocated across the EU. Instead, seekers from countries with much lower acceptance rates, such as Nigeria, whose citizens are granted asylum in only 30 per cent of cases, will continue to be “accommodated” by the member state in which they first arrived.

Further, High Representative Federica Mogherini Migration spoke about “concrete proposals”, while Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos proudly said: “Today, the Commission has shown that it can act quickly and resolutely to better manage migration”. However, “better” does not often mean the best scenario.

The Eastern bloc’s denial

Many Member States have already expressed their denial to the draft plan, revealing how complicated the matter is. Particularly Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, along with the Baltic States, have led the rising chorus of opposition to the proposals, with a support from Romania and Bulgaria.

The “Eastern” bloc expressed many concerns about the proposal because they say the terms are not fair, and that such schemes should be decided at national level and not by Brussels.

“Compulsory quotas and distribution of refugees regardless of their will are not a sustainable solution of the current migration crisis,” Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said in a statement on the matter.

What is more, the Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Rolandas Krisciunas told Reuters the Commission’s scheme should be voluntary, not mandatory, while the controversial Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said the scheme was ‘bordering on insanity’.

Juncker’s call for action

Nervetheless, as expected, European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker strongly defended the measure and appeared determined to proceed full course. “It does seem as if some member states were reluctant, but they have to accept that it is not about words, it is about action”, he recently stressed during a press conference.

The proposed plan will bring also some benefits to the countries that will comply with. According to a draft document seen by the Associated Press last Tuesday, under the emergency relocation plan countries “will receive 6,000 euros for each person relocated on their territories” from EU coffers. Many strongly doubt whether this can count as an incentive to a country to accept and accommodate an immigrant.

Strong opposition

The strength of opposition by some Member States does not sway apparently, regardless Brussels’ efforts. An attempt to re-discuss the Dublin Regulation, which binds the EU Member State responsible to examine an application for asylum seekers, which seeking international protection, has been put forward.

Ad hoc proposals like the one which is now under discussion is certainly a good sign, as many international humanitarian organisations are claiming, but for sure it doesn’t represent a stable solution. For sure it cannot be a quick one, as the major internal discord has already shown how difficult the battle to get the scheme endorsed by national governments in the European Council will be.

A never-ending tragedy

Last year, more than 170,000 people crossed the Mediterranean Sea, with over 3,000 dying on their way. It was actually one of the numerous tragedies in the Mediterranean that have launched various rescue missions run by EU’s member states. Italy’s Mare Nostrum (from Latin “Our Sea”) kicked-off when 360+ people drowned just a mile from the Italian island of Lampedusa bak in late 2013.

The situation has definitely not improved so far in 2015. According to the United Nations refugee agency, at the beginning of May some 60,000 migrants have sought to enter Europe by sea; more than half of them trying to make their way to Italy.

Not to mention the horrible statistic that describes more than 1,800 migrants to have died in the Mediterranean in 2015 already, representing a 20 times increase compared to the same period in 2014.

It remains to be seen though whether the EU will succeed soon to take a comprehensive and successful action on immigration. The matter is crucial, it signifies a threat for the European economy and stability but also it is a threat to the mere traditional humanitarian calibre of the European Union.

The Sting will be monitoring closely the matter.

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