Continued Division in EU over Response to Refugee Crisis

The President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker in his first State of the Union address to the European parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday 9th September called for “root-and-branch reform” of disparate immigration policies in the EU.


Juncker outlined the European Commission’s proposal to extend a quota based system for the relocation of migrants throughout Europe, initially proposed in May. The initial quota system proposed in May extended to 40,000 persons. Juncker announced that this relocation system will now cover 160,000 migrants. This figure of 160,000 relates to individuals who have arrived in in the territory of the EU through Italy, Hungary and Greece. Mr Juncker highlighted that this amounts to 0.11% of the population of the EU. This number represents less than 4% of the more than 4 million refugees in countries neighbouring Syria. UNHCR figures report 1,938,999 Syrian refugees in Turkey alone.

Under the quota system the number of persons to be relocated to each Member state is calculated based on a number of factors, namely- the size of the population, the Gross Domestic Product, the average number of asylum applications lodged over the past four years and the unemployment rate. Receiving Member States will receive €6,000 per person relocated within their territory.

This relocation system as proposed will only be available to persons who have fled from countries for which there is recognition rate of the need for international protection at over 75%. As such, the main beneficiaries of the scheme will be nationals who have fled persecution and human rights violations in Eritrea, Syria and Iraq.

Given that France, Spain and Germany have communicated their intention to back this quota based system there is a strong chance the “qualified majority” required to pass the legislation will be secured. The dissent of a number of smaller central and eastern European countries is still significant and there will undoubtedly be calls to alter the proposal before a consensus is reached. Any Member State who refuses to participate can be imposed with a fine of up to 0.002 per cent of its GDP.


This relocation system is being proposed under Article 78 (c) of the Lisbon Treaty which deals with creating “a common system of temporary protection for displaced persons in the event of a massive inflow”. Under the Treaty of Amsterdam 1997 and the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland along with the UK and Denmark maintains its “opt-out” in relation to EU Law in the area of freedom, security and justice. Ireland has chosen to opt in to the quota based proposals.

Minister Frances Fitzgerald has announced that Ireland will relocate 4,000 refugees and is expected to present this figure at next Monday’s key Justice and Home Affairs meeting in Brussels. Juncker gave special mention to Ireland in this address noting that “there is a reason the number of O’Neills and Murphys in the US exceeds by far those living in Ireland.”

The UK have confirmed that they will be exercising their “opt out” from the proposals following Juncker’s address.


Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 provides for temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons. This legislation outlines measures promoting a balance of efforts between Member States in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences of such reception.

In order for the provisions of this Directive to be implemented by the EU, a proposal would need to be forthcoming from the European Commission or from a Member State that a “mass influx” of displaced persons into Europe is occurring. No such proposal has been made despite the current surge in the numbers of displaced persons reaching European shores. It is also unclear if the provisions of this Directive would cover relocation of displaced persons throughout Member States.

From Juncker’s speech it appears the Commission is seeking to promote the establishment of a more permanent and coherent framework for receiving refugees and displaced persons rather than activating these temporary provisions. Juncker also indicated that a major overhaul of the operation of the Dublin Regulations that requires that asylum applications be dealt with by the first country of entry must be looked at. Juncker also strongly outlined the Commissions supportive view of allowing asylum seekers to work and earn their own money whilst their applications are being processed- something that should be strongly noted by the Irish Government:

“Labour, work, being in a job is a matter of dignity … so we should do everything to change our national legislation in order to allow refugees, migrants, to work since day one of their arrival in Europe.”


We hope that our EU leaders will show strong and committed leadership and will adopt these proposals without delay or squabble. We hope that this quota system will not ensue into a bureaucratic nightmare that forces the dispersal of traumatized persons around Europe like cargo. This number must not be seen as a target or a complete solution to this issue but the start of the building of an EU wide coherent and human rights based approach to international protection. Applications for refuge in Europe cannot be allowed to develop into a box ticking exercise. People from a wide variety of countries will continue to arrive in Europe claiming asylum for a huge multitude of reasons- it must be ensured these applicants too are given due and fair procedures and have their claims properly assessed under the legal framework for international protection. A fair and swift process for applications for family reunification must also be developed.

The sheer scale of the displacement and persecution must not be forgotten, Europe has the capacity to assist much higher figures than proposed thus far. This relocation system does not go far enough for Europe to fulfil its moral and legal obligations.  The upmost must be done to ensure that those Member States who operate inadequate, unfair and inhumane asylum systems are required to improve their systems without delay to meet the standards of International and European Law.

Eimear Nugent

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