EU ministers have failed to reach a consensus over a quota system to help relocate some 120,000 asylum seekers across member states. The main stumbling block to the proposal came from Eastern states, but ministers did agree they should take a break and re-visit the issue in October.
Meanwhile, formal agreement was reached over the relocation of 40,000 migrants currently residing in Greece, Italy and Hungary, according to plans first proposed in May.
Germany’s interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said there was “bitterness” over the fact that the vote was not unanimous, and that ministers would have to meet again on the issue, The Local has reported.
EU Vice President Frans Timmermans said the “numbers (being accepted) today are much too small” and warned of the growing risk to refugees as winter draws near.
“Yes, not everyone is on board at the moment,” Luxembourg minister Jean Asselborn confirmed at a press conference in Brussels held after the emergency meeting. However, he said there was a “large majority” in favour of the Commission’s redistributions plans.
Among those unhappy with the proposed deal are the Eastern European states, many of which have already had to deal with a huge influx of people through their countries in recent weeks.
On Sunday Hungary saw a record 5,809 people entering on foot in a bid to get in from Serbia before tighter crossing rules were enforced, more than 1,400 higher than the previous one day record. More than 200,000 people are believed to have crossed the Balkan states into Western Europe so far this year.
Slovaki’s interior minister Robert Kalinak told the Czech news agency CTK: “There was no consensus, several countries disagreed. It was not only us or the Czech Republic, but other countries as well.
“When other interior ministers also say this issue is about the European Union, it is up to the European countries’ leaders to talk about it. This is crucial in my opinion.”
In response to the outcome, the European Commission released a statement welcoming those decisions that were made but urging ministers to go further: “Member States have agreed to express their solidarity with one another by deciding to relocate throughout the EU 40,000 refugees, based on the European Commission’s first emergency relocation proposal of 27 May. An operational meeting will be organised this week to start implementing the relocation decision on the 40,000 in the shortest possible timeframe,” the statement read.
In continued: “The European Commission also appreciates the willingness of the majority of Member States to move forward as soon as possible towards an agreement on relocating another 120,000 people in clear need of international protection, as proposed by the European Commission on 9 September.
“We welcome the Council’s decision to significantly and immediately increase the EU’s financial support to Syria and its neighbouring countries. There is no solution to the refugee crisis without dealing with its root causes.”
However, the Commission warned that the deterioration of the Schengen free movement zone, as seen in recent days, must not be allowed to continue: “The European Union can only function if everyone plays by the rules.
“The Schengen system and all its benefits can only be preserved if EU Member States work together swiftly, responsibly and with solidarity in managing the refugee crisis. We must keep the borders between EU Member States open, but at the same time we also need stronger joint efforts to secure our external borders,” it said.
The lack of agreement has also been slammed by the Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee responsible for migration and asylum, Labour MEP for London Claude Moraes. “Member states have yet again failed to make tough decisions and provide an organised and compassionate response to the refugee crisis. It is shameful that some of the richest countries in the world cannot stand together and help those fleeing war and persecution in Syria and elsewhere,” he said.
“While welcoming the Council decision to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, it is evident that the numbers agreed on so far are not sufficient to deal with the growing number of people in need of protection.
“The appalling conditions and chaos facing refugees and Europe as a whole show that there was no real preparation at Europe’s borders and little respect for the existing EU Asylum Reception Directive. This has to be fixed, and fast.
He also insisted that Schengen must be upheld, saying: “This does not mark the end of Schengen; Parliament has always supported open borders within the Schengen area and we will continue to do so.
“We must not give up on the open borders that have provided great benefits to the European citizens due to petty quarrels over a number of refugees equalling 0.11 percent of the total population of the EU.”
Follow Donna Rachel Edmunds on Twitter: Follow @Donna_R_E or e-mail to: email@example.com