The EU is discussing a proposal for countries to voluntarily relocate a minimum of 5,000 or 10,000 migrants a year, according to a draft document seen by POLITICO.
The proposal is being crafted by the Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Dated October 20, the so-called discussion paper is meant to gauge the position of EU members and hasn’t yet reached ambassadors in Brussels. But it might represent a potential compromise approach on a subject that has long bedeviled EU members.
Indeed, reforming EU asylum rules has been one of the bloc’s most contentious issues since the migration wave in 2015. And a major source of friction has been how to relocate asylum seekers arriving at the EU’s borders. Previous attempts to set up a mandatory distribution system never advanced, mainly because of opposition from Central European countries like Hungary and Poland.
In the document, titled “Way forward on EU migration solidarity and crisis response mechanism,” the Czech presidency writes that member states “are invited to consider” a minimum annual threshold for voluntary relocations. It suggests 5,000 or 10,000 as possible options — but leaves open the possibility that the European Commission could push the number even higher.
It notes, however, that the pledges would be voluntary.
The proposal is set in the framework of “flexible solidarity,” allowing each country to decide whether to take in asylum seekers or offer financial help to countries facing a migration influx.
Under existing law, asylum seekers are required to submit their applications with the first EU country they set foot in. If they then move within the EU, these migrants can be sent back to that first EU country. But exemptions for countries facing a large wave of migration are already under consideration. And the document keeps open the possibility of introducing these exemptions if the Commission cannot find enough volunteers to accept the desired level of asylum seekers.
So far, Mediterranean countries, the main EU access point for migrants arriving from Africa and the Middle East, have welcomed the Czech proposal, according to an EU official. But countries like Belgium or the Netherlands, desired spots to move once within the EU, are less in favor.
Technical discussions on the document will continue until the end of November when officials will decide whether to elevate the proposal.