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Slovakia wants EU to draft alternative plan to refugee quotas, PM says

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia wants the European Union to drop a proposal to distribute asylum seekers and start working on an alternative plan, Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Friday, repeating his view that a permanent quota system was politically dead.

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The EU executive proposed in May to reform the so-called Dublin system of EU asylum rules based on a “fairness mechanism” under which each member state would be assigned a percentage quota of all asylum seekers in the bloc, aiming to ease the load on states like Greece and Italy.

Eastern Europe’s ex-communist states have strongly opposed the proposal and pushed for alternatives at a meeting of heads of state in Bratislava last month.

“Talks with EU leaders confirmed that mandatory quotas are becoming a politically dead issue,” Fico told journalists after meeting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, also a staunch critic of quotas, in Bratislava.

Almost all Hungarians who voted in a referendum on Oct. 2 rejected the EU’s migrant quotas though turnout was too low to make the poll valid.

“We want the European Commission’s legislative proposals to reflect attitudes of prime ministers and presidents ... that have clearly confirmed voluntariness as a basic principle in migration matters,” he said.

Slovakia holds the rotating six-month EU presidency until the end of the year and is responsible for coordinating agenda of ministerial meetings.

Fico said he wanted interior ministers to start working on an alternative to the Commission’s proposal at their meeting on Oct. 13.

At the meeting of EU leaders in Bratislava, German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded defeat in a year-long quest to convince Berlin’s EU partners to accept migrant quotas.

She agreed to let eastern European states off the hook by embracing their proposal of “flexible solidarity” meaning they would be allowed to send troops or money to European borders instead of taking migrants in.

Under the Commission’s proposal, the quotas would reflect national population and wealth and, if a country found itself handling 50 percent more than its due share, it could relocate people elsewhere in the bloc. States could refuse to take people for a year -- but only if they paid another country 250,000 euros per person to accommodate them.

Slovakia and Hungary have also challenged at the European Court of Justice an earlier decision on a one-off relocation of 160,000 asylum seekers agreed last year, as Greece struggled to cope with the chaotic arrival of nearly a million people.

(This version of the story corrects headline to read “quotas”, text unchanged.)

Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Richard Balmforth