European justice ministers to discuss crisis

The first real test of whether EU governments’ hearts have been softened by the photographs of dead or stressed refugees comes on Monday when justice ministers will discuss what to do next.

They will have the comprehensive set of proposals, aimed at co-operating at an EU level and radically changing who takes the decisions on refugees in what many see as an issue of sovereignty. They will be faced with a system for determining how many asylum seekers each country should take, and be offered an opt-out only in very stressful national circumstances and for which they must offer compensation.

Three EU countries are not part of aspects of the asylum system but while Britain and Denmark will remain outside, the Irish Government is expected to make the decision today at Cabinet to opt in.

Ireland will be expected to take 2,000 from the frontline countries of Greece, Italy and Hungary that have been swamped for several years by asylum seekers.

Cabinet will decide whether to take up Labour leader Joan Burton’s suggestion that the country take 5,000 and be open to taking more. The EU will contribute €6,000 towards each person taken, in addition to having allocated Ireland €19.5m over the next five years.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in May pre-empted the EU’s first attempt to have member states take refugees from these frontier countries by announcing in advance that Ireland would take 600 in addition to 520 from mainly UN camps outside the EU.

Ireland earned a lot of praise for this stance which contrasted with the attitude of many eastern European countries whose communist past has not made solidarity a key priority for them.

The EU failed to get takers for the 40,000 they wanted to relocate in May, placing just over 32,000. So making the new tranche of 120,000 compulsory will be seen as essential, but will pose a big problem for many countries.

They will also be asked to agree a common list of safe countries that are mostly EU candidates to allow asylum seekers from these countries to be returned after a fast track examination of their cause. With almost a sixth of refugees coming from these — specifically Albania and Kosova— this will reduce the numbers quickly.

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