The European Commission (EC) today officially proposed migrant quotas, under which each individual European Union member state should provide safe haven for certain number of refugees.
In the light of one of the worst migration crises for years in the Mediterranean, the EC set out immediate and long-term responses to the migration challenges that Europe faces.
"Today the Commission is matching words with action. Solidarity goes hand in hand with responsibility. This is why our proposals include the strong requirement that asylum rules are properly applied, and that Member States do everything they should to prevent abuse. Everyone who needs sanctuary should find it in Europe. But those who have no justified claim should be quickly identified and returned to their home country. This is essential for migration policies to be well accepted in society," EC's First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said upon commenting the proposal.
40,000 people relocated from Italy and Greece to other EU states
For the first time, the EC proposed to apply “emergency response mechanism” to assist Italy and Greece, under Article 78(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The scheme will apply to Syrian and Eritrean nationals in need of international protection, who arrived in either Italy or Greece after April 15, 2015, or will arrive after the mechanism is launched.
Under the proposal, 40,000 people will be relocated from Italy and Greece to other EU member states over the next 2 years. Member states, including Estonia, will receive 6,000 euros for each person relocated on their territory. According to the plan, Estonia should admit 738 people currently in Italy and Greece.
In addition, the commission has also recommended EU members to resettle 20,000 people from outside the EU. Again, member states who participate in the scheme will be entitled to financial support, with the EU making 50 million euros available in 2015-16. Estonia's share would be 326 displaced persons.
Other proposals include a plan against migrant smuggling and monitoring the incoming migrants by fingerprinting.
Since the announcement of the EC's plan to introduce migrant quotas for all member states, Estonian social media is rife with debate. The discussion has already been called “Cohabitation Act vol. 2”, in a reference to passed civil partnership bill which split the society last year. Many argue that the country is not yet ready to adopt a significant number of displaced persons for two reasons – first, the opinion leaders and NGOs need to do more to lessen prejudice against genuine migrants; and second, actually build more facilities to accommodate them, with current facilities for asylum seekers hardly accommodating up to 100 people at the time.
Ministers: Compulsory quotas not a solution
The Minister of Internal Affairs, Hanno Pevkur, said the 1.85 percent quota for Estonia, which accounts for only 0.26 percent of EU's total population and produces 0.14 percent of its GDP, is not proportional.
Estonian Foreign Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus also agreed that while the reasons for the quotas released today are known and understood, the process by which these numbers were arrived at is not, for the proposal does not take into account Estonia's situation and existing facilities. "Estonia cannot accept the EC's current approach," she concluded.
However, both said in their statements that Estonia is not withdrawing its support to the relocation plan altogether. "Taking into account the extent of the Mediterranean crises and its effect on the European Union, its not a question of whether to help, but how and how much," Pevkur said. Estonia is ready to help constructively solve the immigration crises, but the EC should also be willing to take into account the country's presently limited capability of housing a large number of displaced persons, he added.
Pentus-Rosimannus also pointed out that Estonia must first determine how many people it is capable of accepting and integrating.
"The EU's long-term policies also have to take into account the fact that we are dealing with mixed immigration – the Mediterranean is being crossed by both genuine refugees and those simply searching for a better life alike," she added. "Means to successfully send back economic refugees must definitely be put into place. Treating them all the same is an incomplete solution, one that will only increase the attraction, in which case the problems and the tragedy in the Mediterranean will continue."
Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas, who is currently on a working visit to Sweden, also rejected the EC's proposal in its current form. "Estonia is in the opinion that all EU member states should contribute to alleviating the Mediterranean migrant crisis, however it should be done on a voluntary basis. Member states should be able to decide the number of refugees they have the capability to receive and accommodate – the obligatory quotas are unlikely to offer a sustainable solution. The initial quota calculations seem disproportionate and questionable. The final quota calculation has to be proportionate with the size of the country and its capability to receive and accommodate the migrants," Rõivas said.
The government's official position is due on June 16.
Editor: S. Tambur, M. Oll