European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker today proposed to distribute 120,000 additional asylum seekers among EU nations, including Estonia.
The announcement comes in time of the worst refugee crisis Europe has seen since the end of World War II.
Germany alone has admitted 800,000 refugees this year, but many EU member states have not been so keen to take on tens of thousands from Syria and African countries, such as Eritrea.
The EC originally proposed compulsory quotas in May, under which Estonia would have needed to provide safe haven for over 1,000 refugees, but the EU member states rejected the original plan, agreeing voluntary measures instead. Estonia agreed to resettle up to 200 displaced persons over two years.
This plan has not proved to provide a solution however – as Europe’s borders have become under intense pressure – prompting the EC to come up with a new plan. Amid the recent public outcry in the light of published photos of drowned Syrian children on Europe’s shores, politicians across Europe have become softer and are less likely to voice their opposition to the plan this time around.
Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas said that taking into account the current migrant crisis, EC’s proposals were expected and reasonable.
“As Jean-Claude Juncker said, the situation in Europe is not good. It is the right time to show solidarity, in which the migrant quotas are not disputed anymore. Estonia’s position was that all member states should contribute proportionally. That’s what we agreed upon in summer and we can now focus on helping the people who are fleeing war,” Rõivas said, adding that Juncker’s proposal to create a permanent system to deal with crisis like this is agreeable in principle, but the ultimate decision must lie in the hands of national governments.
Minister of the Interior Hanno Pevkur said, commenting on Juncker’s plan for easing the immigration pressure, that the decisions that have an impact on the EU member states should be made with the involvement of the member states.
"Compulsory mechanisms proposed by the European Commission will not help us out of the migration crisis. We will have to turn our attention from temporary solutions to long-term ones and cooperate internationally to ensure peace in Syria and other areas of crises, provide humanitarian aid, strengthen the outer borders of the EU and, if necessary, create security zones as close to the homes of war refugees as possible," Pevkur said.
“Concerning the people who have already reached the EU, we have to clearly differentiate between the people who need international protection and economic refugees, which means that repatriation contracts with safe countries are of critical importance,” the minister added.
According to Pevkur, the EU needs functional solutions in order to maintain its principles and unity; otherwise the principles of free movement within the Schengen area could be in question. “The free movement of people within the EU is a privilege we have become to consider self-evident. Addressing the current migration pressure, we see that in order to maintain the Schengen area, we will have to work even harder. Estonia will definitely stand for keeping up the freedom of movement in Europe.“
Pevkur said he was happy to hear that the EC has retreated from the migrant allocation formula proposed in spring. “Upon accepting the refugees, we have to take into account the capability of countries and the wish of the refugees to relocate, but mostly the share of the population and economy of the countries in the European Union. The new formula proposed by the EC is in line with that.”
The government will agree on the official position of Estonia at the Cabinet meeting on Thursday. The member states will present their primary positions about the migration-related measures on September 14 at the meeting in Brussels.