BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Quotas for distributing asylum seekers among European Union member states are “politically finished”, Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said on Monday.
Eastern Europe’s ex-communist states have strongly opposed the policy adopted a year ago to tackle the migration crisis that would require all EU countries to take in some of the hundreds of thousands of people seeking asylum in the bloc. Slovakia and Hungary have both challenged quotas at the European Court of Justice.
“Quotas today clearly divide the EU, therefore I think they are politically finished,” Fico told journalists in Bratislava.
As the EU struggles to show unity after Britain’s shock vote in June to leave, leaders have avoided contentious questions like quotas, instead focussing on protecting EU borders and co-operating with the asylum seekers’ countries of origin.
At a meeting of EU leaders this month in Bratislava, German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded defeat in her year-long quest to convince Berlin’s EU partners to accept migrant quotas. She agreed to let eastern European states off the hook by embracing their proposal of “flexible solidarity”.
“What the Visegrad countries — including Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland — have been saying since a year and a half ago now becomes official EU policy,” said Fico, whose country holds the six-month EU presidency until the year-end.
“Whoever wants to divide Europe, let them put quotas on the table, who wants to unite Europe, let them come up with a different concept of fight against illegal migration.”
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Catherine Evans)