European Union interior ministers were at odds on Friday over how to handle immigration, with heated discussions between states who want more burden sharing and those who oppose any kind of obligatory relocation.
“We are looking for compromises but at the moment they are not there,” said Thomas De Maiziere of Germany, which last year took in about 900,000 migrants and refugees.
The ministers had a heated debate over dinner on Thursday after EU chair Slovakia put forward its proposal to reform the bloc’s asylum system, which collapsed last year as member states quarrelled over how to handle an uncontrolled influx of refugees and migrants that saw 1.3 million people reaching Europe, mostly from the Middle East and North Africa.
“We had a very open discussion during the dinner, sometimes passionate, very frank,” said Robert Kalinak of Slovakia. “We knew this would not be easy but we have to breach differing views between member states.
“All of us have the same goal – we want to solve the migration crisis … What we invented last year is not as efficient as we expected so we are obliged to propose other ways.”
To regain control over the flows of people into the continent, the EU strengthened its external borders, struck deals with some of the main countries of origin and transit along the migration routes and suspended its Schengen free travel zone.
Overall, the number of arrivals has decreased from last year but they continue unabated in Italy and tens of thousands of people are still stuck in Greece and Italy, sometimes in dire conditions.
EU states cannot agree how to handle them. Despite agreeing last year to relocate 160,000 people from Italy and Greece, eastern European countries, including Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, have refused to take any in.
Germany, which received most of those who made it to Europe last year, is backed by Sweden, Italy and Malta – which takes over the bloc’s presidency in January for six months – in pushing for obligatory relocation in the asylum reform.
That is precisely what the eastern countries are opposing. Instead, they say, they can offer more resources to police external borders or take on more responsibility for deportations.
“We have to have a mechanism on a permanent basis, we cannot discuss it every time there is a crisis,” said Carmelo Abela of Malta.