Poland rejects southern Europe’s push for mandatory relocation of migrants

A general view of the new refugee camp at Kara Tepe on Lesbos island, Greece, 13 September 2020. [EPA-EFE/ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU]

The upcoming negotiations over the EU’s long-awaited new migration proposal are expected to hit another dead end, despite the European Commission’s assurances of having held an “intensive consultation process”.

The bone of contention is the concept of mandatory relocation of migrants, which some Eastern European countries strongly oppose, just like they did in 2015 and 2018.

“Our priorities are constant: comprehensive protection of external borders, cooperation with third countries, effective returns and prevention of secondary movements,” a Polish diplomat told EURACTIV when asked about next week’s announcement.

The Commission was scheduled to present the migration pact on 30 September, but after a fire destroyed Moria, the largest refugee camp on Greece’s Lesbos island, last week, the announcement has been brought forward to 23 September.

But a storm is already brewing as the Visegrad Four – Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia – are expected to reiterate their opposition to mandatory relocation, paving the way for a bruising negotiation among member states.

Warsaw has been advocating for ‘tangible solidarity’ in the EU as opposed to solidarity based on obligatory measures.

According to the Polish diplomat, the upcoming legislation “should be framed within the EUCO conclusions of June 2018”, in reference to an agreement reached in June 2018 on steps to tackle migration.

After weeks of diplomatic struggle over migrant rescue ships and which Mediterranean countries should take them in, leaders agreed that migrant centres could be set up by EU countries on a voluntary basis and that migrants could be resettled in the countries that agreed to take them.

The conclusions stated that “all the measures in the context of these controlled centres, including relocation and resettlement, will be on a voluntary basis”.

Two years later, the Polish diplomat said, “Poland remains ready to take an active part in the reform of EU migration and asylum policy”.

Asked about the possibility of agreeing a scheme which would force them to pay financial contributions instead of accepting refugees, the diplomat said he does not want to speculate about further discussions.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has repeatedly said his country would not accept refugees. However, after the fire in the Moria refugee camp, the Polish government announced it would help by sending modular homes to help rebuild the camp.

Commission proposal with question marks

In her State of the Union speech this week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen confirmed the EU executive wants to abolish the so-called ‘Dublin Regulation’, under which the responsibility of handling asylum applications lies with the EU country where asylum seekers first arrived.

“We will abolish the Dublin regulation and replace it with a new EU migration governance system,” von der Leyen said.

This will have “common structures for asylum and repatriation” and contain “a new strong solidarity mechanism”, she added.

In addition, she said stronger focus would also be put on fighting people smugglers, strengthening the protection of external borders, and creating legal routes to Europe.

“If we are all ready to make compromises – without compromising on our principles – we can find that solution,” she said.

Asked by EURACTIV at a midday briefing on 10 September about the delay of the new migration pact, the Commission’s chief spokesperson, Eric Mamer, said the extra time spent was not “time wasted”:

“It is extremely important that when we come forward with a proposal, we do so based on a good understanding on what must and can be achieved and therefore the time which is spent preparing legislation is not time which is lost or wasted. It is time that will allow us not to face the sort of situation we faced before, where there are blockages which cannot be overcome”.

 

 

“Preparing legislation is an extremely important political process to ensure the success of the legislation afterwards,” Mamer added.

However, in a later written reply, an EU spokesman rejected the notion that the member states were likely to dismiss the proposal, adding that “the Pact has been prepared through a very intensive consultation process”.

According to the spokesperson, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson had held two rounds of consultations with all member state ministers and toured national capitals together with Commissioner Margaritis Schinas.

Commissioner Johansson said on Wednesday (15 September) that the new scheme will prioritise ‘mandatory solidarity’ but did not elaborate on how this will work in practice.

EURACTIV has learned that an alliance of countries at the frontline of migration developments has been formed, including Malta, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus, promoting common positions. The alliance is pushing for ‘tangible solidarity,’ referring actually to the mandatory relocation across the EU, the sources added.

Mandatory relocation still point of contention in new EU migration pact

The European Commission’s long-awaited new migration pact will consist of five regulations and a political text, EU sources have told EURACTIV. However, the thorny issue of mandatory relocation, which some EU countries strongly oppose, continues to cause headaches.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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