EU set to agree to ‘exceptional relocation’ of migrants by end of July

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat arrives for second day of EU summit recalling the ‘important goal’ achieved last night • 'Muscat's late intervention sealed the agreement between all states,' EU sources say

Member States are set to agree to the "temporary and exceptional" relocation of 40,000 persons “in clear need of international protection” by the end of July, reflecting the specific situations of member states, according to draft Council conclusions.

The 40,000 refugees will be relocated from the frontline member states Italy and Greece over two years. Member States will also participate in schemes to resettle 20,000 displaced persons in clear need of international protection – always “reflecting the specific situations of Member States”.

Although the conclusions have not been formally adopted as yet, it is understood that the text distributed to the leaders during the night reflects the agreement reached over dinner. Yesterday’s first session of the EU summit saw heated exchanges on migration between the member states, with Italy and Malta insisting that Europe could only live up to its name if it started showing solidarity.

According to EU officials, the member states argued heavily on the terminology that should be used in the conclusions, with Italy and Malta insisting that reference should be made to mandatory burden sharing.

This was mainly opposed to by eastern and central European countries which are reluctant to take refugees and guarantees that the system be temporary and voluntary.

In a meeting that was described as highly “emotional” with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi telling the leaders, “if this is your idea of Europe, you can keep it”, one official described Muscat as having been “an important mediator” in the discussions.

“The leaders were getting tired and the Council President refused to let anyone leave the room until some sort of agreement was reached. The Maltese Prime Minister suggested that the text should read that ‘all member states would participate’ in relocation and resettlement and the proposal was welcomed by all,” the official said.

“There is general agreement that Muscat’s late intervention sealed the agreement among all states.”

On his way in to the second working session of the European Council, Muscat said: “The important goal achieved yesterday sets an important precedent. We have agreed to relocation as a principle."

“Obviously there now needs to be an agreement on how the numbers will be divided by the member states as the numbers cannot be imposed. But agreeing to the relocation is a very important point.”

The Council conclusions have effectively eliminated the word ‘voluntary’ from the text, but it also does not include the term ‘mandatory burden sharing’ – a term which a number of member states strongly oppose.

Bulgaria and Hungary would be treated as special cases under the agreement, meaning they would likely take in fewer asylum seekers than other states. The U.K., Ireland and Denmark are also exempt from the scheme because they have an opt-out from some EU migration rules.

In the first quarter of this year, Eurostat said that 184,800 first-time asylum seekers had come into the EU, an 86% increase on the year earlier period. Germany and Hungary were the biggest destination countries for the migrants, followed by Italy.

The draft Council conclusions once again sees the EU leaders agreeing to “a comprehensive approach to migration” which is based on “solidarity and responsibility”.

The draft conclusions – which always remain subject to changes until they are formally adopted – also see the setting up of reception and first reception facilities in the frontline Member States, with the active support of Member States' experts and of EASO, Frontex and Europol to ensure the swift identification, registration and fingerprinting of migrants ("hotspots").

“This will allow to determine those who need international protection and those who do not. The Commission will draw up, in close cooperation with the hosting Member States, a roadmap by July 2015 on the legal, financial and operational aspects of these zones and facilities.”

Reflecting comments by European Council President Donald Tusk that the EU would come down hard on migrants not entitled to asylum, the draft conclusions state: “ Effective return, readmission and reintegration policies for those not qualifying for protection are an essential part of combating illegal migration and will help discourage people from risking their lives. All tools shall be mobilised to promote readmission of irregular migrants to countries of origin and transit, building on the ideas presented by the Commission at the Council on 16 June.

“[…]Member States will fully implement the Return Directive, making full use of all measures it provides to ensure the swift return of irregular migrants; return decisions issued by the Member States will be introduced in the Schengen Information System; the Commission will set out by July 2015 how Frontex will bring immediate support to frontline States on return. The Commission has announced its intention to propose to amend the Frontex Regulation to strengthen the role of Frontex, notably so that it can initiate return missions.”