The European Ministers for Home Affairs or Immigration adopted by a qualified majority the temporary mechanism for the emergency relocation from Italy and Greece of 120,000 persons in need of international protection, during an extraordinary "Justice and Home Affairs" (JHA) Council held on 22 September 2015 in Brussels.
The agreement on this "temporary" mechanism for the relocation of 120,000 persons, proposed by the European Commission among several other measures on 9 September 2015, found "a very large majority, going beyond that required by the Treaties", stated Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's Minister for Immigration and Asylum, who chaired the Council, during a press conference. "We would have preferred it to have been adopted by consensus, but we did not manage that. It was not for want of trying, I hasten to add", declared the Minister with regret, who had travelled to Prague the day before the Council to meet with his peers from the Visegrad Group. He also referred to "other legitimate viewpoints" from States which did not "support this large majority".
The Council was convened by the Luxembourg Presidency in order to progress quickly on this affair, after a majority of countries had supported an agreement in principle for this relocation during an extraordinary session of the JHA Council on 14 September.
Hungary is not participating in the mechanism
According to the conclusions published on the Council's website, 66,000 persons will be relocated, with 15,600 coming from Italy and 50,400 from Greece. The remaining 54,000 will be the subject of a proportional relocation, stated Jean Asselborn. This quota was initially intended for relocation from Hungary, but this country refused to participate in the mechanism and, therefore, will have to accept asylum seekers, according to the Minister.
According to the Council's conclusions, the relocation of these 54,000 persons will be organised "in the same proportions one year following entry into force" of the decision.
Consequently, this quota is, in principle, allocated to Greece and Italy, but other Member States will be able to benefit from it, if they are faced with an emergency situation, explained Jean Asselborn.
A distribution "on a voluntary basis" using the figures proposed by the Commission
"The Council has decided to maintain the figures proposed by the Commission", continued the Minister, referring to "slight modifications" in view of the fact that Hungary "now also has its quota of persons to relocate on its territory". According to the Minister, the quotas of other States have been "adapted in consequence" and these figures "have been accepted by the Member States on a voluntary basis".
The compulsory redistribution key proposed by the European Commission on the basis of criteria such as a country's population and its GDP no longer appears in the legal text, outlined Jean Asselborn, adding that the relocation could be implemented "very quickly". Replying to journalists, Jean Asselborn specified that, in the absence of a consensus on the "compromise proposal submitted by the Luxembourg Presidency", several countries had requested a vote. "They rejected the consensus and a vote was held in accordance with the Treaties. It was a legal decision taken by the EU. Each country has to accept the number allocated to them on the basis of the Commission's proposal", confirmed the Minister, adding that a Member State "does not have the right to reject a decision taken by a qualified majority". According to Jean Asselborn, none of the Member States around the table said that they would not accept refugees. He pointed out that, by virtue of the Geneva Convention, "each refugee is entitled to be welcomed in the EU".
According to Jean Asselborn, the European Commission will ensure that the situation regarding the massive influx of citizens from third countries into all Member States is constantly monitored. After 12 months, it may submit proposals aimed at modifying this decision in order to take account of changes in the pressure placed on Member States, in particular countries which are in the front line.
Jean Asselborn described the decision as a "shared responsibility". "Some say that Europe is divided because a consensus decision was not reached. But, we are faced with an emergency situation! The EU stands accused of not reaching its decisions quickly enough", declared the Minister, highlighting that it was necessary to adopt this proposal, failing which "Europe would otherwise have been more divided and its credibility damaged". "I will leave you to imagine the divisions that would have arisen, if we had failed to reach an agreement", stated Jean Asselborn.
A temporary suspension in a case of "exceptional circumstances"
If a Member State is unable to participate "in all or some" of the relocation owing to "exceptional circumstances", it can give notice thereof "by citing duly justified reasons compatible with the Union's fundamental values" in order to temporarily suspend the mechanism, explained Jean Asselborn. The European Commission will examine the request. Nevertheless, this temporary suspension may not exceed 30 % of the number of persons which the Member State was supposed to receive and may not exceed a period of 12 months. Also, the Commission may propose that the period planned for relocation is extended for an additional period of no more than 12 months beyond the planned two years, explained the Minister.
Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, underlined the importance of this decision for the "following steps", namely border management, finger printing of asylum seekers and return measures for those who are not entitled to international protection. For him, the aim is to prove to European civil society that "we are capable of making decisions", but also of "rebuilding trust" between Member States and showing solidarity. For the Vice-President, this is the condition that will ensure that beneficiary States (Italy and Greece) start to apply the Dublin Regulation again and register migrants. The migration crisis can be brought under control, but it will require "considerable effort" and "a great deal of time", he added.
The European Commissioner in charge of Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, hailed the fact that a decision had been reached just three weeks after the Commission's proposal. "In total, we will be able to relocate 160,000 persons", he said, referring to another proposal to relocate 40,000 persons which was formally adopted during an extraordinary JHA Council on 14 September 2015. "It is an historic moment for the European migration policy", he confirmed. The relocation can start in the coming weeks, he stated. The Commissioner appealed to the beneficiary countries to "take advantage of this opportunity to reinforce and improve their national asylum system" as well as the management and surveillance of their borders and the registration of migrants. He insisted again on the need for Member States to set up an "adequate reception system" for migrants.
Frans Timmermans and Dimitris Avramopoulos again acknowledged the Presidency's "excellent" work and the personal commitment of the Luxembourg Minister Jean Asselborn. "What the Luxembourg Presidency has done over the past few weeks and, above all, over the past few days is an incredible achievement. It has succeeded in reconciling very divergent positions", declared Frans Timmermans.