The Estonian government has officially announced that it is against the migrant quota plan proposed by the European Commission (EC).
The government took over three hours to reach consensus. The decision will now also need an approval from the Parliament, which will start debating it on June 12, ahead of the discussion by the European justice and interior ministers on June 16.
The government is in the opinion that Estonia is willing to accept a “limited number of refugees”, reflecting the Estonian GDP and population share in the European Union - 0.26 and 0.14 percent respectively, but is against compulsory quotas.
The ministers also maintained the earlier standpoint that it is important to offer local support and help to the EU member states currently under pressure from the refugees from Africa and the Middle East, as well as fight against people smuggling.
PM Rõivas: Estonia lacking capability
Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas said in a press conference after the cabinet meeting that it is impossible to say how many refugees Estonia could adopt. “We wouldn't be able to negotiate over the numbers if we said so right now. But what is clear is that we wouldn't be able to handle 1,064 displaced persons, currently proposed. This is not the right method – Brussels ordering us to receive an unproportionally large number of people."
The EC put forward the migrant quotas on May 27. Each individual EU 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, in which thousands of people have died. According the International Organization for Migration (IOM), almost 2,000 migrants have perished in the Mediterranean since the start of the year – over 30 times more than during the same period in 2014. In the latest incident in May, up to 900 migrants went missing and feared dead after a wooden fishing boat, on which they were hoping to reach the shores of Europe, capsized near Libya.
Under the plan, 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 proposal, 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.
Estonia's hard stance against refugees
Estonia has for long taken a very strict stance against refugee policies. The country has refused to be part of the UN Refugee Agency's displacement programs and taken a firm stand against any solidarity mechanisms within the EU, according to NGO Estonian Refugee Council. Only a few dozen people a year are granted asylum in Estonia.
Estonia's foreign minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus recently told ERR that dealing with asylum seekers is an aftermath, but the real focus should be on ensuring peace in Libya and combating human trafficking.
However, five Estonian members of the European Parliament – Marju Lauristin, Urmas Paet, Tunne Kelam, Indrek Tarand, Kaja Kallas – who recently discussed the current Mediterranean migration crisis among other topics at ERR's Vikerraadio, all agreed that Estonia needs to show solidarity with the rest of Europe and this may also mean accepting a small number of refugees.
The EC quota is made up of the two major factors: the size of the population as this determines how many and how quickly member states can absorb and integrate refugees, and the total GDP, as large economies are generally considered more able to shoulder greater migration pressures. In addition, there are two corrective factors, applied inversely: the number of the asylum applications received and resettlement places already offered in the past 5 years, and the unemployment rate. In the latter cases, the higher the existing asylum application numbers and the higher the unemployment rate, the fewer individuals a member state should relocate.