The European Commission on Wednesday pitched its proposal to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece across Europe, paying member states €6,000 per individual to take the refugees, confirming an earlier report by POLITICO.
The plan, once described by a Commission spokeswoman as “Juncker’s baby,” envisions relocating 24,000 asylum seekers from Italy and another 16,000 from Greece to other EU member states, to stem the rapidly expanding migration crisis.
“The EC has shown that it can act quickly,” home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Wednesday. Referring to the delicate nature of the numbers he added: “Quotas is a word we don’t like and we never used.”
Listen to commissioner Avramopoulos’s press conference:
The calculations per country will be based on a redistribution key that gives population size a weight of 40 percent, 40 percent based on economic growth, 10 percent on unemployment and 10 percent on former engagement with asylum seekers.
They must belong to “nationalities for which the EU average recognition rate as established by Eurostat is above 75 percent,” as the legal text defines. This could particularly apply to Syrians and Eritreans, who have the highest success rates in their requests for protection with over 70 percent being approved. In 2014, they were the largest group trying to enter the EU.
The document specifies further that the member states “shall receive a lump sum of €6,000 for each applicant … relocated from Italy and Greece.” The money will come an extra €240 million funding by the EU to support this relocation scheme, which is designed to last for 24 months.
These numbers are the missing parts of the ambitious agenda that was presented two weeks ago, and comes a month after about 800 refugees died at sea trying to cross the Mediterranean, pushing migration to the top of the Commission’s agenda.
“We have to look at this figure as a strong first step, it’s a completely new era for the Commission,” Elizabeth Collett, director of the Migration Policy Institute Europe in Brussels, said. “A first step with a implicit ‘quid pro quo:’ that Italy and Greece invest in reception, processing and integration of asylum seekers.”
But the European help will come with strings attached, since Italy and Greece will have to stop turning a blind eye to those refugees who avoid being registered in these countries so that they can easily move to another European state.
Under EU law, asylum seekers have to remain in the first European country they enter, which is in most cases Italy or Greece.
An Italian official welcomed the plan for its political significance.
“What really changes is that now there is a form of sharing and that what today applies to Italy, tomorrow can apply to Poland,” Mario Morcone, head of the Immigration Department of Italy’s Interior ministry told POLITICO.
Yet the impact of this new migration policy, for the time being, will not change much for Italy, he said.
“Last year we had 170,000 migrants and refugees. This year we expect something like 200,000, so the fact that both this year and the next one we will relocate 12,000 asylum seekers (per year under the plan) is not going to be decisive — but it is the principle that matters here.”
But other answers have yet to be provided by the Commission. What will happen to people who do not want to stay in the country where they are relocated? How many countries have the real capacity and experience to support people and try to restore their lives? And will it really be possible to send back those whose requests for asylum may be rejected?
“Realistically,” says Collett, “you cannot return someone to Syria.”
As for the funding, it should not be a problem: “Europe is facing threats so big that we will fund the money,” Antonio Tajani, one of the vice presidents of the European Parliament, told POLITICO. “Europe has to realize that the situation is worsening and that it needs to have a strategic thinking. We have to avoid having Isis surround Europe, otherwise soon even quotas will not be enough,” he said, referring to the presence of Isis in Libya, where many of the refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea come from.
Meanwhile, Frontex announced plans to boost its “Triton” rescue operation. The operational area will be extended to 138 nautical miles south of Sicily, up from 30 miles. One additional aircraft and helicopter, four new offshore patrol vessels and six further patrol boasts also will be brought into service.
Commission wants to “move ahead swiftly”
Refugees rescued by Triton will be brought to the Greek or Italian harbors and then eventually relocated. The Commission points out that this procedure will not apply to economic migrants but only “persons in clear need of international protection.”
The relocation mechanism will likely only apply to those asylum seekers arriving to Italy and Greece after the adaption of the agenda, which will probably be at the end of June – if it passes the Council.
There are some obstacles ahead. The Commission’s legislative proposal needs be adapted by the Council on a qualified majority, meaning with the approval of at least 55 percent of the EU member states who represent 65 percent of the EU population or more. Some Baltic and Eastern European countries fiercely opposition to the mandatory relocation of the refugees, others like Spain could vote with a no as well.
“Can you exercise solidarity by imposing it?” asked Prague’s ambassador to the EU, Martin Povejšil. “This is completely irrespective of the political consequences,” Povejšil said, referring to the rise of right-wing parties in Europe.
A blocking minority of at least 4 member states representing 35 percent of the EU population will be enough to stall Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s migration plan.
As the relocation of the asylum seekers is legally based on a treaty article 78.3 — defining a “emergency situation characterized by a sudden inflow of nationals of third countries” — the parliament is reduced to a consulting function and won’t be able to amend the legislative proposal brought forward by the Commission.
“The objective is to move ahead swiftly,” an EU official involved in the migration agenda said under the condition of anonymity.
Great Britain, Ireland and Denmark won’t participate, as they have a special status in the EU treaties.
Zoya Sheftalovich contributed to this story.