quinta-feira, 5 de maio de 2016

Price for rejecting refugees: €250,000 per head

Price for rejecting refugees: €250,000 per head
Brussels proposes a raft of measures Wednesday to rescue its migration strategy.

By CRAIG WINNEKER 5/4/16, 12:55 PM CET

The European Commission on Wednesday proposed a new system for enforcing the relocation of migrants around the EU, giving countries that refuse to accept refugees an expensive “pay-to-not-play” option.

The measure, which would set a price of €250,000 per migrant for countries that want to avoid EU-imposed quotas for the resettlement of asylum-seekers, is part of a raft of new proposals aimed at rebooting the EU’s beleaguered strategy for dealing with the migration crisis.

Promising to move “towards a sustainable and fair” system for coping with the crisis, the Commission acted to address criticism of the bloc on three key fronts: that EU countries were failing to share the burden of the influx of migrants; that the bloc’s border control system had broken down; and that the Union had traded its commitment to human rights for a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees.

On the most controversial of those measures, the Commission said it would recommend granting visa free travel to Turks — a linchpin of its deal with Turkey on controlling the flow of refugees into Europe — even though Ankara had not yet met all the criteria the EU normally requires for such a move.

There is no à la carte solidarity in the European Union. You can not pick and choose when to show solidarity or not” — Frans Timmermans
Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans defended the decision to green-light the proposal even though Turkey had not yet completed the list of benchmarks, saying it was a “matter of urgency” for the EU’s migration strategy and saluting Ankara for making “impressive progress” towards the goal.

He insisted Turkey would get no “free ride” and was expected to meet all criteria before the end of June, including on measures related to corruption, cooperation with EU law enforcement authorities, data protection, and counter-terrorism legislation.

Timmermans also tried to calm fears the decision would lead to unrestricted movement by Turkish nationals across the EU — a concern expressed by some countries over security issues. “Visa liberalization does not mean uncontrolled entry into the European Union” by Turks, he said. “Only people who have biometric passports can enter.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters at a news conference in Ankara that the Commission’s decision was “satisfying” and said “we will finish our passport requirements accordingly,” according to the state-run Anadolu News Agency.

The measure is likely to face opposition in the European Parliament, which has the power to block it. Manfred Weber, leader of the Parliament’s largest political group, the center-right European People’s Party, criticized the Commission’s decision in a statement Wednesday. “There must be no watering down of the rules on visa liberalization for Turkey,” Weber said. “It is hard to understand why the Commission is now proposing visa liberalization despite Turkey not meeting all the criteria.”

The Commission also proposed allowing several countries to continue to impose internal border controls, essentially suspending the Schengen free travel agreement for up to another six months in acknowledgement that the movement of “irregular migrants” posed a “threat to public policy and internal security.”

The proposals would all have to be approved by EU countries.

The new relocation measures will not apply to the U.K. and Ireland, which under the proposal are allowed to “determine themselves the extent to which they want to participate” in them. Both countries have agreements under existing EU treaties that allow them to opt out of the asylum rule.

Timmermans took pains to point out that it was up to Britain to decide if it wants to take part, saying he believed London considered the issue “extremely important. They really want to cooperate in this.”

The remark was a nod to the sensitive politics surrounding the issue of migration as Britons prepare to vote in a June 23 referendum on EU membership.

But there was no such consideration for other countries, which under EU treaties will be forced to go along with the proposals. Timmermans insisted the harshness of the measures, including the head-turning amount of the fine, was necessary to ensure cooperation.

“There is no à la carte solidarity in the European Union,” Timmermans said. “You can not pick and choose when to show solidarity or not.”

Incredible strain

The payment plan is included as part of what the Commission calls a “fairness mechanism.” It’s designed to appease member states opposed to mandatory quotas in the refugee relocation program, while at the same time easing the burden on front-line nations overwhelmed with migrants seeking international protection in the Union.

The EU’s current rules require that asylum-seekers are dealt with in the countries where they first arrive, a situation that has placed huge strain on the resources and capabilities of Greece.

The proposed new measure would keep that requirement in place but would include a “corrective” mechanism that would take effect if a country is handling “a disproportionate number” of asylum applications relative to its size and wealth.

Once certain thresholds are met and a determination is made that a country is handling too many refugees, a quota system would kick in to require that asylum-seekers be relocated across the EU. If countries want to avoid those quotas, they could make a “solidarity” payment to another nation that is taking in the refugees.

“We have seen during this crisis how just a few member states were placed under incredible strain because of the shortcomings of the present system, which was not designed to deal with situations of this kind,” said Timmermans.

“There’s simply no way around it: Whenever a member state is overwhelmed, there must be solidarity and a fair sharing of responsibility in the EU,” he added.

Timmermans said the Commission had decided on the figure of €250,000 to send a strong signal about solidarity. He added that it was calculated taking into account the immediate and longer-term costs for dealing with an asylum-seeker over the course of five years, including schools, medical care and housing.

EU countries have shown themselves unable to deliver a solution to the refugee crisis under the current rules” — Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group
But he insisted the goal was not to have to use the mechanism, because it would be invoked only if certain countries became overwhelmed with refugees — an eventuality the deal with Turkey and improved border control measures were designed to avoid.

The payment plan, he said, “can only be used in exceptional circumstances,” adding that it was not the case that countries will “just make a transfer of money and then solve the problem.”

Lessons learned

An EU official said the plan came in response to a number of countries that were “crying out” for reform of refugee policy. “We have to learn the lessons” from the last several months of the crisis, the official said.

But the measure is already being criticized from EU countries that have been opposed to relocation quotas in the past and have refused to take in refugees on a mandatory basis. Some of those countries, such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, would face huge bills if the mechanism was invoked. Hungary and Slovakia have already taken the EU to court over its previous plan to force countries to accept refugee relocation quotas.

Mariusz Błaszczak, Poland’s interior minister, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that the Commission’s proposal “violates the rights of member states.”

Hungary’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, told reporters after a meeting with other central European ministers in Prague that the Commission’s plan for fines amounted to “blackmailing,” according to Reuters.

Officials said that until the proposed reforms to the EU’s refugee system are approved, the existing rules would apply — including emergency measures on relocation of refugees, which have so far faced serious implementation challenges — and would be “enforced by the Commission to the full.”

Proponents of a more coordinated EU approach to migration hailed the proposals as step toward boosting solidarity.

“These are positive and progressive proposals,” said Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the European Parliament.

“EU countries have shown themselves unable to deliver a solution to the refugee crisis under the current rules. We need a new EU centralized asylum system, based on the fair sharing of responsibility between member states and these reforms are an important step towards that goal,” Verhofstadt said in a press statement.

Jan Cienski and Barbara Surk contributed to this article.

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