Host migrants or pay, France and Germany propose

Italian doctor Pietro Bartolo (C), the so-called 'migrant doctor' on Lampedusa, waits to check the conditions of a group of migrants after a boat of the 'Guardia Costiera', the Italian Coast Guard, full of migrants arrived in the port of the Lampedusa island, south Italy, early 13 October 2018. [Elio Desiderio/EPA/EFE]

European Union governments that refuse to host refugees could instead pay to be excused from the bloc’s system of sharing out migrants, France and Germany proposed on Thursday (6 December) as they sought to end a long-running EU feud over migration.

The move reflects impatience with progress on reforming EU asylum rules ahead of EU parliament elections in May, diplomats said.

Juncker Commission gives up on Dublin asylum reform

Faced with the opposition of member states from the Visegrad group, the Juncker Commission made it plain on Tuesday (4 December) that it has given up on one of its declared goals: completing the reform of the Common European Asylum System.

It aims to narrow gaps between states in central Europe who fear such changes could encourage more migrants, and those such as Italy, where many asylum-seekers reach Europe and which, under current rules, are responsible for accommodating them.

According to a document circulated to EU interior ministers in Brussels and seen by Reuters, initial host countries would have responsibility for about eight years — less than the 10 years previously proposed by Berlin, which has taken in the bulk of people who first arrived in Europe in Greece or Italy.

And in a further concession to Rome, there should be a special rule for people arriving after being rescued at sea — Italy’s populist government has been refusing to let rescue ships dock at its ports to avoid having to deal with them.

Italy cannot be 'Europe's refugee camp', Salvini says

Italy’s new hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini said Sunday that “common sense” was needed to stop the country from being “Europe’s refugee camp” as he visited a migrant centre in the south.

Governments would still be obliged to take asylum-seekers from other EU states, but exceptions could be made if countries made “alternative measures of solidarity”.

That EU language is code for paying into the EU budget or paying towards development projects in Africa, diplomats said, and seeks to end divisions between EU states such as Germany, which are willing to take in refugees, and eastern countries such as Hungary, who reject granting asylum.

Mediterranean arrivals of migrants and refugees are below 100,000 people so far this year, according to UN data, but the 2015 influx that caught the bloc unprepared has hardened southern and eastern EU governments against migration.

The document said the European Union would need a proper mechanism to avoid a situation in which all EU governments opted to pay their way out of any hosting responsibilities and would set an eight-year period for any arrangements.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said in October more development money for Africa could be an acceptable compromise for eastern, formerly communist EU states that are refusing entry to refugees, mainly from Muslim countries.

Germany, France and the Netherlands had previously demanded solidarity from all EU states, but now appear more open to others buying out of the refugee distribution scheme, which was first set out by the European Commission in a series of proposals 2015.

Any political agreement is likely to take time, diplomats said, not least because Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the eurosceptic Italian government have built their political image on anti-immigration policies.

Salvini and Orbán launch anti-immigration manifesto ahead of EU elections

Hungary’s illiberal Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini launched Tuesday (28 August) an anti-migration manifesto aiming at next year’s European parliament elections, targeting a common enemy.

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