The EU’s top diplomats were working late into the evening to agree on taking 160,000 asylum seekers from front-line states in a change of attitude by member states.
Ireland’s decision to take 3,500 people over two years from the European Commission’s target was well received, although dwarfed by Germany’s announcement that it was open to taking 800,000 this year.
It now looks possible that ministers will reach agreement on the figures at least at their meeting on Monday which will be attended by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
They failed to agree to take the 40,000 proposed by the Commission in May, reaching just over 32,000 as Hungary, Spain, Finland, Poland, and several other eastern European states objected.
However, high-level sources said there had been a definite softening of attitude by most of these countries with a more constructive atmosphere at the meeting of national ambassadors to the EU.
Commission president Jean Claude Juncker met them to further outline the major changes he has proposed to the EU’s asylum rules and push that refugees be dealt with on a more pan-EU basis with countries sharing the burden rather than leaving it to just national decisions.
The European Parliament on Wednesday approved the temporary emergency rules to relocate the 40,000 and the key used to decide how many people each country should take, and the ministers are expected to finalise the process at Monday’s meeting.
There was some optimism that they will also agree to the additional 120,000 asylum seekers, which will be the start of a permanent relocation system. This however is not a done deal as some see the permanent system as yielding sovereignty to the EU. Britain and Denmark have already said they will not be part of it but Ireland has signalled it will opt in.
However, Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin said the Government has asked the Commission if the approximately €42,000 they expect to spend on the refugees can be deducted from the State’s deficit budget to ensure it does not interfere with the reduction the State must make in the budget deficit.
Part of the Juncker proposals include agreeing a list of seven safe countries — any of their citizens would be sent back under a fasttrack system unless they could prove that they were in danger. They would include the five EU candidate countries, which includes Turkey, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
This should have a significant impact on the numbers applying for asylum as citizens of the Balkan countries were the third largest group applying for asylum. According to Thamil Ananthavinayagan at the Irish Centre for Human rights in Galway, they accounted for nearly 40% of applications filed in Germany last month.
A number of countries are expected to have reservations about Turkey with the number of human rights abuses being reported from there and with a significant number of asylum requests by nationals being granted by EU countries.
About 70,000 asylum seekers will come from those in Greece, 50,400 from Hungary and 39,600 from Italy. They will include just three nationalities — Syrians, Eritreans, and Iraqis — as these qualify for refuge under international rules.
Normally they do not have a choice where they go but liaison officers from each receiving country will work with local personnel to try to create the best match, taking into account the language of the applicant, culture, education, family links, skills and any other attributes.
Their applications will be finalised in their new country where, once granted refugee status, they should be able to work but will be dissuaded from leaving that country at least for a few years.
Anybody seeking asylum from the month before the system is agreed at EU level will be eligible. The nationalities that qualify may change over the next two years if people from other countries, such as Afghans, are getting more than a 75% recognition rate as refugees in the EU.
The details are not expected to be finalised at Monday’s meeting and are likely to require a second meeting possibly next month. The likelihood of a special summit EU leaders was beginning to recede last night as ministers just need a qualified majority to agree.