EU member states urged to turn words into action on migration agenda
MEPs have largely welcomed the commission's proposals for tackling the Mediterranean migrant crisis.
Following the deaths of over 1000 refugees attempting to enter Europe through the Mediterranean, EU policymakers had come under fire and been urged to take action by NGOs and MEPs.
In response to these calls, the commission has presented its EU migration agenda. The new strategy will grant additional funding to Frontex operations Triton and Poseidon, which provide equipment for search and rescue missions.
It will also introduce a temporary relocation mechanism, whereby quotas will be established for the number of asylum seekers each member state will have to process. The commission is working on a set of criteria for redistribution, including size of population, GDP, unemployment rate and past number of asylum seekers.
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There are also plans to set up an EU civilian mission in Niger, as that is where many refugees fleeing war-torn Libya are smuggled from.
Commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans insisted the goal was to "assist the member states and do what citizens have asked of us - to stop a humanitarian tragedy from continuing in the Mediterranean and offer a long-term solution to a problem that will not go away simply by ignoring it".
However, three countries - the UK, Ireland and Denmark - are unlikely to participate in the initiative. The UK and Ireland have an 'opt-in' right, meaning they are free to choose whether or not to adopt these new measures, while Denmark has an 'opt-out' right and will not be bound by the new rules.
UK home affairs secretary Theresa May has stated that migrants travelling to Europe for economic reasons should be returned home.
Timmermans said, "the treaty is the treaty - it is up to those countries to decide whether or not they want to be part of the system of solidarity".
The migration agenda has failed to convince parliament's GUE/NGL group, with Barbara Spinelli accusing the commission of having drafted its proposal "with eyes wide shut".
She explained that, "respect of fundamental rights in countries of origin and transit are not even mentioned. There is no firm commitment on relocation, and the numbers of resettlements for asylum seekers in the EU are derisory".
And Cornelia Ernst underlined that "any system that does not take the wishes of migrants into account is set to fail. For now, only things like GDP and unemployment rates are mentioned. There is no talk of family ties, cultural aspects or anything that relates to migrants themselves."
Meanwhile, several parliamentary groups have reacted positively to the new migration agenda, but have warned that it is now up to the member states to implement the proposed measures.
Roberta Metsola, EPP group vice-coordinator on parliament's civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, praised the plans as "a good step forward in getting the EU to fairly share the responsibility on migration, but commitments on paper must now be honoured in practice".
Her centre-right colleague Monika Hohlmeier stressed that "member states' promises will be tested in two ways - first, they have to agree to a fair and balanced crisis mechanism for distribution and second, they have to turn the promises of equipping Frontex, Europol and the European asylum support office with resources and staff into a reality".
S&D group chair Gianni Pittella said, "we welcome the proposal to set a binding distribution key and quotas of asylum seekers. As well as this we are satisfied with the proposal for a binding mechanism concerning the relocation programmes. This must become permanent."
He highlighted that, "these are genuine deeds - not just words".
Socialist civil liberties spokesperson Birgit Sippel pointed out that "European countries' leaders now have the chance to deliver and not just mourn without taking action".
"However, these schemes don't give an answer to our demand for safe and legal avenues. They cannot prevent further tragedies in the Mediterranean as long as there will be thousands of people desperately fleeing poverty and wars at any risk. Therefore, the EU must move forward without being afraid […] and develop more legal and safe access options for migrants", she added.
But ECR home affairs spokesperson Timothy Kirkhope was not impressed with the commission's migration agenda, saying, "true solidarity cannot be created through compulsion alone, and binding quotas oversimplify the solution for such a complex situation".
In his view, "we must create a strategy which tackles the problems at source. We need to work with police forces in third countries, to train them to identify, investigate and prosecute human traffickers and organised criminal groups".
The Liberals were cautious with their response, with ALDE group president Guy Verhofstadt highlighting that "more needs to be done to remove the incentives for immigrants to undertake the dangerous journey to Europe".
He stressed that "we need to address the root causes by putting in place a permanent system for asylum seekers and economic migrants".
His colleague Cecilia Wikström said the proposal was "not enough" and called for "a comprehensive approach to asylum and migration, a truly European agenda that really links these two policy areas together".
Greens/EFA group co-chair Rebecca Harms agreed, admitting that "the proposal for binding quotas for the distribution of asylum seekers is a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, on the whole, the commission's proposals are timid and don't go far enough".
"We need more opportunities for legal access and greater commitment on combating the underlying reasons why refugees flee their country of origin", she added.
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