The European Commission proposed today (13 May) taking in 20,000 refugees over two years and distributing them across Europe but giving Britain, Ireland and Denmark the option not to accept any.
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.
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.
“No country should be left alone to address huge migratory pressures,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on his Twitter account after the proposals were published.
Solidarity in check
Under a quota scheme based on country size, economic output and other measures, Germany would take the most migrants followed by France and Italy, assuming Britain opts out.
Hours before the plans were unveiled, British interior minister, Theresa May, criticised the EU’s approach, saying that by not sending economic migrants back, the bloc was encouraging them to come.
But Juncker said in a video to accompany the Commission’s proposal that Europe needed immigrants as its workforce will dwindle by 2060 and that Europe needed to show solidarity.
His right-hand-man, Frans Timmermans, told a news conference that returning some migrants was still part of the EU’s policy and that Britain’s May “can rest assured” that not all refugees will be granted asylum.
Britain, Denmark and Ireland have exemptions on matters concerning asylum, immigration, visas and external border controls based on protocols agreed in the EU’s Lisbon treaty.
With only 25 countries of the EU’s 28 member countries likely to take part, Germany will take 18.42% of refugees, followed by 14.17% in France, and 11.84% in Italy. Spain will take just less than 10%.
Sweden, which after Germany received the most asylum applications in Europe in 2014, will take about 3%.
The Commission’s formal proposal to EU governments will come at the end of the month.
Legal migration on the back burner
In its paper, the Commission makes a brief mention of a new policy on legal migration as one of the “pillars” of the new Agenda on Migration, but makes no proposals in this direction. The reason appears to be that the EU executive got the message after EU leaders at their last summit on migration, held on 23 April, rejected the idea (see background).
“The focus is on maintaining a Europe in demographic decline as an attractive destination for migrants, notably by modernising and overhauling the Blue Card scheme, by reprioritising our integration policies, and by maximising the benefits of migration policy to individuals and countries of origin, including by facilitating cheaper, faster and safer remittance transfers,” the paper reads.
The Blue Card is an approved EU-wide work permit (Council Directive 2009/50/EC) allowing high-skilled non-EU citizens to work and live in any country within the European Union, excluding Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, which are not subject to the proposal.
Development issues, which were mentioned in the five-point on immigration, presented by Juncker, then candidate for Commission President, on 23 April 2014 in Malta, do not appear in the Agenda on Migration.