Ireland faces decision over EU migration relocation policy

Commission amends strategy after opposition

Migrants after disembarking from the migrant offshore aid station vessel Phoenix in Augusta, Sicily. The European Commission is to introduce a “European Agenda on Migration” today. Photograph: Francesco Malavolta/AP

Migrants after disembarking from the migrant offshore aid station vessel Phoenix in Augusta, Sicily. The European Commission is to introduce a “European Agenda on Migration” today. Photograph: Francesco Malavolta/AP

 

The European Commission has amended part of its migrant strategy ahead of today’s announcement of a European agenda on migration, in the face of opposition from a number of member states about legal aspects of the proposal.

In particular the proposal to activate the “temporary protection directive”, which would have allowed for the temporary provision of refugee status to immigrants, has been dropped. Instead, according to the latest draft, the controversial proposal to relocate migrants who have arrived in the EU will be proposed under Article 78.3 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union.

Ireland and Britain will now have the option to opt in to the measure, a European Commission spokeswoman confirmed yesterday. This means that they can decide within three months of the proposal being presented whether or not they want to participate.

Mandatory relocation

A spokesman for Britain’s home office said: “The UK has a proud history of offering asylum to those who need it most but we do not believe that a mandatory system of resettlement is the answer. We will oppose any EU Commission proposals to introduce a non-voluntary quota.”

The European Commission will today launch a wide-ranging EU strategy on migration, which will include a proposal to resettle asylum seekers from outside Europe and to relocate thousands of migrants who have already reached Europe.

Though a European Commission proposal on migration had been expected for some time, last month’s tragedies in the Mediterranean have given the issue fresh impetus. Despite opposition from some member states towards the proposal, a European Commission spokeswoman insisted yesterday that the EU’s executive arm remained committed to taking a strong stance on migration.

“President [Jean-Claude] Juncker has already made quite clear what his intentions are for this European agenda on migration, and notably he did say that he would like to propose a system of relocation throughout the European Union and that solidarity must be shared,” she said.

Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, who was in Brussels yesterday for a meeting of EU finance ministers, is understood to have raised concerns about migration with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schäuble, on the sidelines of the meeting.

‘Resolute and firm’

“We come here with a very clear mandate to improve Britain’s relationship with the rest of the EU and to reform the EU so that it creates jobs and increases standards for all its citizens,” Mr Osborne said. “We go into the negotiations aiming to be constructive and engaged but also resolute and firm.”

Mr Osborne and British foreign secretary Philip Hammond are expected to lead Britain’s negotiations with Brussels as the Conservative government aims to strike a new deal with Europe before putting EU membership to a referendum.

With reports yesterday that British prime minister David Cameron could bring forward the referendum to 2016, discussions with officials in Brussels are expected to begin shortly.