EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson is urging member states to reach a compromise on how to share responsibility for migrants, as she tries to forge a pact to end an “unacceptable” stalemate.
More than four years since the migrant crisis began, EU states have failed to agree on reforming their common asylum system, though overall arrivals of migrants have dropped since then.
Johansson is touring European capitals to prepare the “new pact on migration and asylum” that will be presented in the spring, as promised by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
It is a delicate mission focused on a sensitive issue.
“My aim is to de-escalate the debate on migration,” Johansson said in an interview with AFP in Zagreb before attending an informal meeting of EU interior ministers on Friday.
“Migration is not the only policy area where EU member states have very different starting points, but in other policy areas in the EU we manage to sit down at a table to negotiate, to compromise on some conclusions that can make things better,” she said.
“I guess with my new pact no member state will say, ”hooray this was the ideal solution”.” But the former Swedish Social Democrat employment minister said it was “unacceptable that we have been in this blocked political situation for such a long time”.
The countries through which migrants enter the bloc, whose governments are responsible for verifying asylum seekers, have complained about shouldering a disproportionate burden.
But the bloc has been unable to develop a workable system in which refugees and asylum seekers can be relocated to other member states, chiefly because of resistance from eastern EU countries.
“The mandatory relocation is obviously blocked, voluntary relocation will not be enough. So the solution will be somewhere between,” she said, without elaborating.
While migrant arrivals have declined considerably in Italy — which closed its ports to boats rescuing migrants for much of last year — the central Mediterranean route remains the deadliest.
Johansson said the conflict in Libya made her “very worried that we could see more people actually risking their lives on the Mediterranean”.
The European Union has come under fire from activists who say the bloc should launch a European rescue force for migrant ships.
Critics have also criticised an EU deal with Libyan coast guards, who have been blocking the departure of migrants while the country is sinking into war.
Meanwhile, Johansson defended another disputed agreement that the EU struck with Turkey in 2016 to curb the flow of migrants landing on Greek shores.
She rejected Ankara”s accusations that Brussels has not honoured its side of the deal.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu complained on Wednesday that his country had not received the full first instalment of three billion euros (USD 3.3 billion), out of a total of six billion, pledged by the EU.
The EU provides money every month for food for refugees and pays wages to teachers, Johansson said, adding that the money is also spent on building schools and healthcare centres.
Turkey hosts about four million refugees, mostly Syrian, and the commissioner stressed the need to continue cooperation with Ankara.
Johansson also added that Europe could “do much more to facilitate the returns” of failed asylum seekers.
“This is important that we make the distinction between those that are eligible to stay, they should be welcomed, and those who are not eligible to stay, they have to be returned,” she said.