ROME (Reuters) - Eastern states that continue to refuse to take in refugees to help frontline countries in Europe’s migration crisis should have their EU funding cut, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Wednesday.
Italy is the main destination for the waves of migrants fleeing violence and poverty in Africa. It is housing 160,000 asylum seekers out of more than 460,000 refugees who have reached its shores from North Africa since the start of 2014, Interior Ministry data show.
Of 39,600 refugees due to be relocated from Italy under an EU quota plan, so far only 1,300 have been moved, according to the European Commission.
While outlining his priorities for the EU’s next summit meeting on Oct. 20-21 in Brussels, Renzi told parliament: “It’s necessary that Italy be the promoter of a very tough position toward those countries that have received a lot of money for belonging to the bloc to relaunch their territories, and who are shirking their commitments to relocate immigrants.”
Poland, Hungary and other formerly communist states are firmly opposed to relocation quotas for refugees and say immigration, especially from the Muslim cultures of the Middle East, would disrupt their homogeneous societies. They also object to paying penalties for not taking people in.
The financial transfers to less-developed areas of the EU from which they benefit, and which Renzi was referring to in his comments, absorb a large portion of the current 1-trillion-euro EU long-term budget.
The proposal for the next EU budget, for the 2021-27 period, is supposed to be completed by the end of next year.
“The positive aspects of belonging to the EU must be balanced by the duties that come with membership,” Renzi said.
Earlier this month, Hungarians voted over any future EU relocation quotas, with more than 98 percent opposed accepting any such plans. The referendum failed to reach a quorum and so was not valid, but Budapest wants to enshrine the result in Hungary’s constitution.
Slovakia wants the EU to drop the relocation plan and work on an alternative, Prime Minister Robert Fico said earlier this month.
Of 66,400 refugee relocations foreseen by the EU from Greece - which has borne the brunt of arrivals from Syria and other parts of the Middle East - so far only 4,600 have taken place, official data shows.
Both Italy and Greece were in the top five in numbers of first-time asylum applicants received in the second quarter of this year with Italy, on 27,000, second behind Germany.
Renzi had sharply criticized the EU’s response to both the immigration crisis and Brexit a month ago after leaders met in Bratislava to chart a way forward following Britain’s vote to leave.
He echoed that twin criticism on Wednesday, again urging the bloc to come up with a more ambitious relaunch plan.
“We thought that the Bratislava summit would come up with an ambitious and important program,” Renzi said.
Instead, “we had to observe that this frenetic paralysis brought nothing: a banal document with a list of promises unable to face the challenge created by Great Britain’s exit.”
Reporting by Steve Scherer; editing by John Stonestreet