The European Union was set Wednesday to launch a fresh effort to tackle its migration crisis, including a controversial scheme to redistribute refugees among member states.
The 28-country bloc has been struggling with its biggest influx of migrants and asylum seekers since World War II, which has stretched resources and sparked tensions between EU countries.
“We are committed to accelerate and enhance our actions to face the migratory challenge, which is a European one,” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told the European Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
But EU nations are at odds on how best to handle the surge, particularly when it comes to the question of whether asylum seekers should be spread out across the bloc.
Italy, Greece and Hungary have so far borne the brunt of migrant arrivals via the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkans, while Germany and Sweden have been prime destinations for those seeking to file asylum applications.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive, is keen to lighten their burden by redistributing asylum seekers to other member states.
It will propose Wednesday that 120,000 asylum seekers be relocated from Greece, Hungary and Italy to other EU countries under a fixed distribution key, according to a draft seen by dpa. This is on top of a previously proposed 40,000.
But the approach has met with resistance in the past, as some governments want to decide on their own how many refugees they can handle. Another commission proposal to establish a permanent relocation system for asylum seekers is likely to be contentious too.
“This remains a very challenging topic,” Avramopolous said.
But other countries have been pushing for all member states to shoulder the responsibility of giving protection to refugees – most notably Germany, which expects 800,000 migrants and asylum seekers this year.
Some are in favour of using economic pressures to get reluctant countries on board. Belgium’s state secretary for migration, Theo Francken, has suggested suspending EU agricultural aid to countries who do not show solidarity on asylum, the Belga news agency reported.
But when asked on Tuesday whether pressure should be put on countries opposing the introduction of a quota system, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “One should not deal in threats.”
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will unveil the new proposals on Wednesday morning as part of his annual state of the union speech in the European Parliament.
The package also include creating a 1.8-billion-euro (2-billion-dollar) trust fund for Africa and listing Balkan countries and Turkey as safe origins from which nationals cannot request asylum in the EU, according to the draft.
Some of the measures will require the approval of the legislature and member states to come into effect.