EU aims to spread refugee burden

Today is D-Day for EU ministers to agree a way to spread some of the responsibility for refugees around member states, but talks were still fraught last night in a row that threatens the union’s viability and could open the way for Germany to take fewer migrants.

Draft agreement that member states were discussing late last night dealt with making it more difficult for countries to opt out of their EU treaty responsibilities to show solidarity, by sharing the burden of refugees.

However, Hungary’s insistence that it did not want to be part of any deal, and so did not want to be relieved of 54,000 asylum seekers in their country, opened up another possibility.

All references to helping countries in the south-east of the EU or the western Balkans were removed from a draft being considered by negotiators. Instead, they discussed being flexible about what to do with the 54,000 that are part of the 120,000 they want to relocate.

Sources said the question was whether this number is applied to Greece and Italy, which are in line to be relieved of 50,400 and 15,600 refugees respectively, or whether some or all of this number would come from other countries that are also under pressure.

The feeling was that this number could be used to the benefit of Germany and perhaps Austria, which has received the largest numbers from the current influx.

The draft conclusion quoted an April resolution from the European Parliament asking for increased help and sharing of responsibility for countries “which receive the highest number of refugees and applicants for international protection in either absolute or relative terms”.

While some countries may feel that Germany brought much of the current influx on itself, smaller countries on the EU’s border are demanding relief.

Howeve,r German chancellor Angela Merkel is now under pressure to control the situation and an agreement to share some of the burden could help her domestically.

However, some countries fear that the move could have other consequences, such as relieving Germany of the need to take some or all of the numbers it is currently due to receive from Italy and Greece — a total of 17,036.

The draft also stipulated that countries must take the allocated number of refugees from Italy and Greece, except in the event of a massive natural disaster. This was further tightened up from the proposal made by the European Commission to say that countries could only get out of taking up to 30% of their allocation for just six months and, in that event, they would have to pay €6,500 per person they were not taking.

EU leaders meeting in emergency session tomorrow cannot deal with legislative issues, so the decisions must be taken by the Justice ministers today.

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