European Council President Donald Tusk has summoned EU leaders to an emergency summit next Wednesday (23 September) to discuss migration and a proposed scheme to distribute 120,000 asylum seekers across the 28-nation bloc.
European Union interior ministers failed on Monday (14 September) to agree on a quota system designed to spread the burden of this year’s huge influx of migrants into Europe, many of them fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a special EU refugee summit on Tuesday (15 September), urging unity after an angry reaction to a suggestion by one of her ministers that states that did not take in their share of asylum seekers could face financial penalties.
Tusk said in a tweet on Thursday (17 September) that he had convened a summit on Wednesday at 6 PM CET to deal with the refugee crisis. Tusk warned last week that he would call a special summit if the ministers failed to agree on a solution at the Brussels meeting, warning of the need for “solidarity and unity.”
I convene an extra #EUCO on Wednesday 23 September at 18h to discuss how to deal with the refugee crisis
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) September 17, 2015
Interior ministers are due to revisit the mandatory relocation plan at an emergency meeting on Tuesday (22 September) after the European Parliament endorsed it on Thursday, with diplomats keen to avoid a new failure.
Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania and Poland, all former Communist countries that joined the EU a decade ago, are the main opponents of compulsory quotas, arguing that they would draw more migrants to Europe and disrupt their societies, which are not accustomed to mass immigration.
Hungary rejected the scheme even though it, along with Greece and Italy, would be sending asylum seekers to other European states rather than taking them in. Budapest argues that most of the migrants arriving on its border first entered the EU in Greece. Hence, it should not be treated as a frontline state.
The Hungarian government has also argued against granting asylum to refugees on religious grounds, emphasising blatantly nationalist themes.
Germany and France, the main recipients of asylum seekers, may resist a voluntary system because they would likely end up with more refugees than under mandatory quotas.
It was reported yesterday that European authorities are prepared to drop the idea of a mandatory scheme to redistribute 120,000 asylum seekers around the bloc, in favour of the voluntary system.
But that was denied by Meena Andreeva, Commission Deputy Chief Spokeswoman. She said, “These media reports are false. President Juncker reiterated the Commission’s position in the College yesterday: our proposal for a mandatory relocation scheme benefitting 120,000 refugees in clear need of international protection remains on the table.
“The Commission will continue defending this proposal in the legislative process.”
EU leaders have agreed on the outlines of a two-year plan to deal with unprecedented numbers of migrants fleeing the Middle East and Africa.
But implementing the system to resettle or relocate 60,000 refugees is proving to be highly contentious at a time of rising anti-immigration parties in Europe. Many countries, including France and Germany, do not reject the idea of burden-sharing for refugees, but contend that the European Commission's proposed quota system needs to be reworked.
EU leaders argued through the night at a summit in June over the plan, wary of taking in migrants and reflecting deep national rivalries that the bloc's cooperation is supposed to transcend. They have set December as the latest deadline to agree final numbers.
But the refugee crisis has worsened since then. Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commisison, now hopes to convince EU member states to accept the mandatory distribution of 160,000 refugees.
In order to achieve this, the Dublin Regulation, which forces refugees to apply for asylum in the first EU country they arrive in, and is often accused of destroying solidarity between EU countries, would have to be altered or suspended.
Such an ambitious policy would require a fundamental change in attitude among EU leaders, who in May refused a similar distribution plan for just 40,000 refugees.
The urgency of the migration crisis will force the EU to review the list of safe countries of origin and examine the system of distribution for asylum seekers, two issues that have been blocked at the European level for years.
- 22 September: Interior ministers meet in Brussels
- 23 September: Emergency summit in Brussels