Commission on collision course with member states on migration

North African immigrants, Lampedusa. [Vito Manzari/Flickr]

The Commission put forward its first concrete proposals today (27 May) following the terrible loss of life in the Mediterranean last month. They include the relocation of 40,000 people from Italy and Greece to other EU countries, as well as the resettlement of 20,000 from outside the EU to member countries.

Shocked by the deaths of migrants from North Africa trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean, the European Union is trying to put in place a fairer way to resettle asylum-seekers at a time when anti-immigrant parties are on the rise.

On 13 May, the Commission proposed taking in 20,000 refugees over two years and distributing them across Europe, while giving Britain, Ireland and Denmark the option not to accept any. Britain and Ireland have “opt-ins” on EU matters related to justice and home affairs, meaning they only participate if they so choose, while Denmark has an “opt-out” meaning it will not participate.

Italy and other southern European countries are clamouring for EU help to deal with the influx but, while Italy, Germany and Austria back a quota system, some EU states are opposed. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán has called the refugee quota plan “mad”.

>> Read: National concerns erode European migration strategy

>> Read : Hungary’s PM Orban calls EU refugee quota plan ‘mad’

This time, the Commission took another step by making public the proposals it is making to member states for improving the management of migration.


The Commission is proposing to use the emergency response mechanism under Article 78(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Article 78(3) states that ”In the event of one or more Member States being confronted by an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of nationals of third countries, the Council, on a proposal from the Commission, may adopt provisional measures for the benefit of the Member State(s) concerned. It shall act after consulting the European Parliament.”

This provision, which is being activated for the first time, will be used to set up an emergency relocation scheme to assist Italy and Greece. As experts explained, it is considered that only Italy and Greece qualify at this point in time for the triggering of the mechanism.

The scheme will apply to Syrian and Eritrean nationals in need of international protection that arrived in either Italy or Greece after 15 April 2015, or that arrive after the mechanism is launched. A total of 40,000 persons should be relocated from Italy and Greece (24,000 from Italy and 16,000 from Greece) to other EU member states based on a distribution key over the next 2 years. The criteria take into account both the absorption and integration capacities of the member states.

The Commission is ready to do the same if other members – such as Malta – also face a sudden influx of migrants. Member states will receive €6,000 for each person relocated on their territory.

As experts explained, the number of 40,000 has been decided, because less was insignificant, while more was not acceptable.


The Commission is asking member states to resettle 20,000 people from outside the EU, in clear need of international protection, over 2 years, based on a distribution key. Member states who participate in the scheme will be entitled to financial support, with the EU making €50 million available in 2015-16.

As experts explained, the UK, Ireland and Denmark can opt-out from resettlement, but not for relocation, as no legal basis for it exists.

Member states are requested to commit to the recommended resettlement locations by September 2015.

Action plan against migrant smuggling

A Plan for 2015-2020 sets out actions to prevent and counter migrant smuggling. Actions include setting up a list of suspicious vessels; dedicated platforms to enhancing cooperation and exchange of information with financial institutions; and cooperating with internet service providers and social media to ensure internet content used by smugglers to advertise their activities is swiftly detected and removed.

Guidelines on fingerprinting

For the EU’s common asylum system to work effectively, migrants need to be systematically fingerprinted upon arrival. The Commission has published guidelines for member states setting out a best practices approach for fingerprinting newly arrived applicants for international protection. “Hotspot” teams from EASO, Frontex and Europol will work on the ground to swiftly identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants and assess those who are in need of protection.

A public consultation on the future of the Blue Card Directive

The Commission wants to improve the existing EU Blue Card scheme, which aims to make it easier for highly skilled people to come and work in the EU but is currently scarcely used. The public consultation invites stakeholders (migrants, employers, governmental organisations, trade unions, NGOs, employment agencies, etc.) to share their views on the EU Blue Card and how it can be improved.

At the last summit on migration, held on 23 April, EU heads of state and government reportedly rejected the idea of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to promote legal migration.

>> Read: Juncker suffers double blow on immigration at summit

A new Operational Plan for Operation Triton.

The Operational Plan extends the geographical area of Triton southwards to the borders of the Maltese search and rescue zone to cover the area of the former Italian Mare Nostrum operation. Ironically, it was a EU decision to slash Mare Nostrum by replacing it by the much smaller Triton mission.

The Commission proposal needs to be adopted by the Council, voting by qualified majority, after consultation of the European Parliament. Member states who have not opted-in to the proposal do not vote.

Meeting on short notice for an extraordinary summit on 23 April 2015, EU leaders dealt Juncker, now Commission President, a double-blow on immigration. Firstly, his proposal for legal migration was not supported. Second, he tried to secure resettlement across Europe for 10,000 refugees. Instead he had to settle for a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement for those qualifying for protection.

>> Read: Juncker suffers double blow on immigration at summit

EU leaders decided to triple annual funding to €120 million to the Operation Triton, an EU frontier operation off of the coast of Italy, putting it at the same level of funding as the defunct Italian Mare Nostrum mission.

Among 17 proposals in a summit communiqué, leaders agreed to "undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers". It is unclear how that may be achieved, and several leaders said they would need a UN mandate in the absence of a viable Libyan government.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country, along with Sweden, takes in a large proportion of asylum-seekers, called for a change in the EU's system of managing asylum claims to better distribute the pressures across the bloc.

It also became known that the EU is seeking United Nations Security Council approval to seize vessels used to traffic migrants across the Mediterranean from Libya, though Russia has signaled it would not allow destruction of the vessels.

>> Read: EU seeks UN approval for seizing boats used for human trafficking

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