The Commission is planning to propose binding quotas for Member States accepting refugees. This would be a major break from the Dublin Regulation mind set, where asylum seekers can only apply where they enter the EU – a system that has put intolerable pressures on the Mediterranean countries to the benefit of northern Europe. The Commission plan aims to have an equitable division of refugees, taking into account a Member State’s population, economic situation, employment levels and the number of refugees already accepted by that Member State.
The European Parliament has also called for binding quotas to be put in place to share the influx of refugees more equitably, with a grand coalition of the EPP and S&D backing the motion. The situation highlights not only the moral imperative to act to help those trying to escape desperate circumstances, but also the fundamental tension between the Dublin Regulation’s “common border” approach and the lack of true common policies within the EU on asylum seekers.
Getting agreement on any binding quotas will be an uphill struggle. In the wake of the most recent Mediterranean tragedies, EU ministers failed to agree on 5,000, so the Commission number of 20,000 appears ambitious. Though the UK, Ireland and Denmark would not be bound by such quotas (they have an “opt-in” in justice and home affairs matters, except for Denmark which has an opt-out), the UK’s new Conservative government was quick to make clear that it won’t accept mandatory quotas and would reject this and any other future Commission plan on quotas. Within the Schengen zone, Hungary has also raised objections. The Commission will have to be creative in balancing Member States’ concerns over sovereignty over borders and immigration while being bold enough to push for a system that will commit Europe to living up to its global responsibilities.