Tuesday 13 November 2018

EU offers deal over refugees

'Countries that won't share migrants should pay more to Africa'

Mongolia’s President Khaltmaagiin Battulga at the Asia-Europe Leaders Meeting being held in Brussels yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Mongolia’s President Khaltmaagiin Battulga at the Asia-Europe Leaders Meeting being held in Brussels yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Gabriela Baczynska BRUSSELS

European Union countries who refuse to host refugees could instead pay more for EU migration and development projects in Africa, head of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani said yesterday.

The proposal signals a possible compromise to end a bruising dispute in the bloc.

The migration standoff has divided southern and eastern EU states as well as richer countries such as Germany since 2015, when more than one million refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa reached the bloc's borders.

But the tone of the discussion changed recently after years of one camp insisting that all EU states must take in some migrants and the other side rejecting the plan.

"No relocation - [then] more money for Africa," parliament president Tajani told a news conference yesterday in Brussels as the bloc's 28 national leaders held discussions about migration.

"This should be a good compromise. It's better to have an agreement with a compromise than no agreement."

Mediterranean arrivals of migrants and refugees are below 100,000 people so far this year, according to United Nations data, a far cry from the 2015 influx that caught the bloc unprepared and overwhelmed security and other public services.

The EU has since tightened its external borders and has also become more restrictive on granting asylum. It has sealed deals with countries from Turkey to Libya to keep a lid on migrants departing their territory by sea for EU shores.

It will further step up returns and deportations of those who reach Europe but do not qualify for asylum, a joint statement said.

The bloc will seek to build "a broader partnership" with countries along the migratory routes, mainly in North Africa, including to crack down on people smugglers.

The chaotic scenes from 2015 have continued to reverberate around European politics.

A surge in support for anti-immigration, populist and nationalist groups has continued to grow across the continent. However, as migration numbers have slowed, a deal between the EU's members should be easier.

The eastern, formerly communist states like Poland and Hungary remain adamant that they will not allow in any refugees from mainly Muslim countries.

Germany, France and the Netherlands, which had previously demanded solidarity from all EU states, may be more open now to allowing their reluctant peers to buy out of the refugee distribution scheme as a way of sealing a deal, diplomats said.

"We cannot force [other countries to take in refugees], but those that do not do so must possibly contribute in another way such as in Africa.

"Everyone needs to take on some of the responsibility that we all have," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told his EU colleagues recently.

Any political agreement is likely to take more time, diplomats and officials said, not least because Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the eurosceptic Italian government have built their political clout on an anti-immigration line and criticism of how the EU has handled migration.

Meanwhile, Italy and the European Union should avoid acting unilaterally in talks about Rome's budget and build trust, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel told Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in a meeting on Wednesday, according to an Italian official.

"Merkel lent support to Conte to begin a positive dialogue with European partners on the budget," the source said.

"Merkel told Conte that at this stage it would be better to foster mutual trust, which is a key condition to favour dialogue."

Irish Independent

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