Juncker urges Europe to agree on refugee proposal

EU justice ministers to discuss plan on Monday to redistribute 120,000 refugees

European Commission’s president Jean-Claude Juncker makes his State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, yesterday. Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

European Commission’s president Jean-Claude Juncker makes his State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, yesterday. Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

 

The European Commission unveiled a relocation programme for refugees yesterday in its first major policy response to the migration crisis, but doubts remained over whether European Union justice ministers will back the plans when they meet in Brussels on Monday.

Speaking after his State of the Union address to the European Parliament yesterday, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he hoped EU justice ministers “would at least be able to agree to the main points of the proposal” on Monday, but he played down the possibility of securing a common agreement.

A plan to redistribute 120,000 refugees arriving in Hungary, Italy and Greece across the EU was the cornerstone of the European Commission’s migration policy, launched yesterday by Mr Juncker in Strasbourg.

Mr Juncker said told a packed chamber Europe needed to show leadership and unity on the migration issue. “In spite of our fragility, weaknesses, self-perceived weaknesses, today it is Europe that presents a worldwide place of hope and haven of stability,” he said.

Noting that only 0.11 per cent of the EU’s population are refugees, he said Europe was a continent whose own citizens had benefited from emigration to other regions of the world, citing the example of Scottish and Irish emigrants who had moved to the US. Mr Juncker appeared to be heckled by an MEP from the UK Independence Party during the speech, prompting him to deviate from his speech and call the MEP’s intervention “worthless”.

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Where the refugees go will be decided using a mandatory distribution key, taking account of four main factors: population size, GDP, unemployment rate and average number of past asylum applications.

Britain and Denmark are not participating in the scheme, and Italy, Greece and Hungary will be automatically exempt.

The commission’s plan was announced as confusion continued over the legal status of the Dublin regulation yesterday, after Danish state-owned railway company DSB announced it was cancelling all trains between Denmark and Germany after asylum-seekers refused to leave a train bound for Sweden.

Dublin regulation

In a speech that balanced a call for Europe to improve its border control and returns policy with the need for Europe to offer refuge to those fleeing persecution, the commission also announced a new returns policy designed to support member states in their efforts to return migrants who are not entitled to asylum.

In addition, the compilation of an EU-wide list of “safe countries” was also announced as part of an effort to speed up the return of economic migrants to their home countries. Among the countries included on the list are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. About 17 per cent of applications lodged in the EU come from citizens of these seven countries, the commission said, most of whom are not entitled to asylum.

Addressing the plenary session during the debate, Irish MEP Sean Kelly called on the EU to tackle people smugglers and their vessels: “They are the real culprits in this and they need to be dealt with effectively.” Irish MEPs from across the political groups backed a European Parliament resolution yesterday on the commission’s plan earlier this year to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers.

Meanwhile the Council of Europe human-rights body warned member states the rights of migrants and asylum seekers in reception centres and temporary living spaces must be respected. In a letter to the Council of Europe’s 47 member states, secretary general Thorbjørn Jagland said migrants and asylum seekers were entitled to the same fundamental rights as everyone else”.