September 7, 2015 / 9:46 AM / 3 years ago

EU eyes new migrant quotas; reluctant countries can buy out

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union executive is preparing for a new clash over refugees with national governments, especially in eastern Europe, after officials gave details on Monday of how many it would ask each of them to accommodate.

Migrants make their way after arriving by train at the main railway station in Munich, Germany September 7, 2015. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

The European Commission will propose national quotas to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers arriving in Greece, Hungary and Italy, with Germany taking in more than 40,000 and France nearly 31,000. Countries that do not want to take part would be able to make financial contributions to buy their way out of the obligation on a temporary basis.

The plan would be the biggest move yet on the part of the EU as a whole to tackle a crisis which has seen hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrant arrive on its southern shores and eastern borders.

It still will go just a small way toward distributing asylum-seekers across the 28-member bloc, where Germany has far outpaced its neighbors in opening its doors, creating tension with some of its neighbors.

The redistribution program would be small compared to the 800,000 asylum seekers Germany itself plans to receive this year. And Germany would still take a quarter of those redistributed.

Nevertheless, Berlin says convincing its EU partners to do their share is a crucial part of maintaining European solidarity in the face of the continent’s biggest migration crisis since the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has the firm backing of French President Francois Hollande.

But while Berlin and Paris have thrown their weight behind the scheme to oblige states to take in people to process their claims for refugee status, poorer eastern countries have made clear they oppose such schemes.

A proposal in May to relocate 40,000 people was blocked by national leaders, and their efforts to reach the target by voluntary pledges fell short.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is due to unveil new proposals on Wednesday. EU officials have said he will propose adding 120,000 people to be relocated on top of the 40,000 the Commission previously proposed relocating. The proposal would also be expanded to relocate refugees arriving in Hungary as well as those arriving in Italy and Greece, covered under the earlier proposal.

The asylum seekers would be distributed under a formula that looks at each EU country’s size, economic strength and past history of taking in migrants. Britain, which has so far kept its doors comparatively tightly closed, has an exemption from European asylum policy and therefore would not be required to take any refugees, as do smaller Ireland and Denmark.

The formula would still require some countries to take more than they had in the past offered to accommodate. Poland has said it might handle about 2,000 people, but the Commission’s new proposal would assign it close to 12,000.

Slovakia has said it does not want to take in Muslims.

EU interior ministers will debate the Commission’s proposals at an emergency meeting next Monday in Brussels.

The 160,000 refugees to be relocated would include 66,400 who have arrived in Greece, 54,000 who have arrived in Hungary and 39,600 who have arrived in Italy.

Italy and Greece are the main entry points for refugees and other migrants who reach the European Union by sea. Hungary, main entry point for those arriving by land across the Balkan peninsula, has more recently become a focus of the crisis.

The three main entry countries would be exempt from taking in a share of the refugees relocated under the system. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been a vocal opponent of national quotas.

The quota formula, or “distribution key”, is based 40-percent on receiving countries’ national income, 40-percent on population, 10-percent on the unemployment rate and 10-percent on how many refugees each country was already accommodating before this year’s crisis.

Juncker will also propose a permanent relocation system to ease the strain on EU frontier states which, under current EU rules, are supposed to process the asylum claims of all those who first enter the 28-nation bloc via their territory.

EU officials have said countries would be able to opt out from receiving asylum seekers for limited periods by making a financial contribution. An EU source said on Monday that such opt-outs would be limited to one year and that the financial payment would be equivalent to 0.002 percent of their GDP. This would, for instance, amount to less than 10 million euros for Poland, the official said.

Sources said the Commission also planned to put Turkey and all the non-EU states of the Western Balkans on a new list of “safe” countries, whose citizens would face accelerated reviews of asylum claims to speed deportation for most of them.

The following table shows the numbers of asylum-seekers each country would take, both from the proposal for the initial 40,000 in May and the latest proposal for an additional 120,000.

Of 40,000 Of 120,000 Of 160,000

proposed in additional in TOTAL

May new proposal

Austria 1,213 3,640 4,853

Belgium 1,364 4,564 5,928

Bulgaria 572 1,600 2,172

Croatia 747 1,064 1,811

Cyprus 173 274 447

Czech Rep 1,328 2,978 4,306

Estonia 738 373 1,111

Finland 792 2,398 3,190

France 6,752 24,031 30,783

Germany 8,763 31,443 40,206

Greece

Hungary 827*

Italy

Latvia 517 526 1,043

Lithuania 503 780 1,283

Luxembourg 368 440 808

Malta 292 133 425

Netherlands 2,047 7,214 9,261

Poland 2,659 9,287 11,946

Portugal 1,701 3,074 4,775

Romania 1,705 4,646 6,351

Slovakia 785 1,502 2,287

Slovenia 495 631 1,126

Spain 4,288 14,931 19,219

Sweden 1,369 4,469 5,838

* Hungary was initially expected to take some people in from Italy and Greece but was later promised an exemption.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Peter Graff

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