Pressure builds on Eastern Europe to accept refugee quotas

Distributing food at a refugee centre in Hungary. [Rebecca Harms/Flickr]

Several countries have already changed their tune on refugee quotas, while others, particularly in Eastern Europe, remain hostile to Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposal. EURACTIV France reports

The Spanish government announced on Wednesday (9 September) that it would accept the quota of Syrian refugees assigned by the European Commission.

“Spain will take the refugees that the European Union asks us to,” Spanish Vice-President Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told the press on Wednesday (9 September).

>>Read: Why Angela Merkel is so generous to the refugees

Spain’s change of tack reflects a growing acceptance by a number of European countries of the need to distribute refugees equitably across the European Union.

An accelerating crisis

The acceleration of the refugee crisis in recent weeks has forced many EU capitals to soften their position and come out in favour of the distribution plan for 160,000 refugees, announced by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during his State of the Union speech on Wednesday.

>>Read: Juncker defies EU countries with distribution plan for 160,000 refugees

Poland’s size placed it near the top of the list of host countries for these 160,000 refugees.

Ewa Kopacz, the Polish premier, said her country was investigating the possibility of increasing the number of migrants it could accept, but the Polish government asked the Commission for the power to choose who would be given refugee status.

>>Read: Visegrad summit rejects migrant quotas

“We initially announced that we would accept 2,000 migrants,” said Ewa Kopacz. “We now plan to review and increase this number. We want Poland to be able to control who comes, in what numbers, and when. The negotiations are ongoing,” she added.

In Eastern Europe, some governments are still reluctant to discuss the distribution of refugees.

“I am convinced that Europe does not need any new plans to resolve this crisis,” Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka stated in a press release.

>>Read: Hollande attacks Slovakia, Hungary over response to refugee crisis

“It is time to swap negotiations for action and start working hard on the measures we have approved with the other EU leaders in recent months,” Sobotka added, reaffirming his opposition to quotas.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico once again refused the European Commission’s proposal for migrant quotas on Wednesday, saying he would not submit to Germany and France.

A few hours after Juncker’s calls for the establishment of the mandatory distribution system, Fico told the press, “When Germany or France say something, we should not bow down before them and repeat the same thing. We also have our own opinions.”

“The Slovak government is ready to contribute to the protection of the external borders of the European Union. Whether it’s funding or military force, or some other assistance,” he said.

>>Read: Commission frowns on ‘Christian only’ solidarity with migrants

Visegard countries under pressure

But the mounting political pressure may force the Visegard countries (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) to cave in and play a constructive role in a common solution to the crisis.

“I don’t see how the countries of the Visegard group will be able to resist the incredible political pressure from the rest of Europe for much longer, particularly from Germany,” French Republican MEP Alain Lamassoure said after Jean-Claude Juncker’s speech. “Especially as Poland has already softened its position,” he added.

Lamassoure believes these countries will eventually support the joint effort, either by hosting refugees themselves, or by funding camps in other European countries.

East-West divide?

Some fear that plans to host refugees in Eastern Europe could pose real political and practical problems for the European Union. “The East doesn’t want quotas,” said Pervenche Berès, a French Socialist MEP. “Europe’s East-West divide is creeping back through this migratory crisis.”

But in practice, the living conditions of any refugees that are accepted by the Visegard countries may not be up to an acceptable standard.

“Our Polish colleagues have told us they will accept more refugees, but in what conditions?” Pervenche Berès added. “Today, only Germany has the power to take money from its budget to deal with the influx of refugees.” 

Romania joined the rank of countries opposed to the Commission plan to share out migrants among EU members under a mandatory quota scheme, President Klaus Iohannis said on 10 September.
“We believe that it is not a solution, and it is inappropriate to talk about mandatory quotas, calculated on an extremely bureaucratic basis – almost like an accountancy exercise I might say – without consulting member states,” Iohannis told reporters.

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