The European Union's response to the migrant crisis has been slow, fractured and deeply inadequate in the face of such a vast tide of human misery and desperation. While individual member-states, notably Germany and Sweden, have shown leadership, political boldness and generosity, EU leaders have until now failed to agree a common, co-ordinated approach. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker believes the mood has changed so dramatically in recent days, however, that member-states may be ready to embrace a Europe-wide response to resettling refugees.
In his first State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday, Mr Juncker called on member-states to relocate an extra 120,000 refugees across the EU, in addition to the 40,000 agreed in May. The asylum-seekers would be relocated from Greece, Italy and Hungary, with receiving member-states receiving €6,000 for each relocated person. The refugees would be allocated to member-states according to a formula based on each country's Gross Domestic Product, unemployment rate and the number of asylum-seekers already processed. Crucially, the quotas would be mandatory, with member-states that refuse to accept their allocated share of migrants facing fines.
The Commission's proposal appears likely to win the required approval of a qualified majority of member-states, whose interior ministers will discuss it next week, but it faces opposition from a number of countries, notably in central and eastern Europe. This State, along with the UK and Denmark, enjoys an opt-out on justice and home affairs issues, including asylum, but the Government has commendably chosen to opt into the EU proposal, so Ireland will receive a proportionate allocation. Mr Juncker reminded Europeans of their continent's history of mass migration; noting "there is a reason the number of O'Neills and Murphys living in the US exceeds the number in Ireland". It is a history and a legacy that demands a generous response to today's refugees – with Ireland very much to the fore.