BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union interior ministers made a fresh attempt Thursday to overcome one of the bloc’s toughest political problems by weighing new measures to share the responsibility for migrants who enter Europe illegally.
Europe’s asylum system collapsed eight years ago after more than a million people entered it, most of them fleeing the conflict in Syria, and overwhelmed reception capacities in Greece and Italy, prompting one of the biggest EU political crises.
The 27-nation EU has since sparred over which countries should take responsibility for people who arrive without authorization and whether other members should be obliged to help them cope.
Arriving for the meeting in Luxembourg, the EU’s top immigration official, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, said it was an “extremely important day” to resolve what has been “a marathon problem” for Europe.
“From this marathon, we have maybe 100 meters left. So, we are very close to finding an agreement today,” Johansson said. “I hope that the member states can do the last extra meters to reach the agreement.”
“If we are not united, we are all losers,” he said.
Under existing rules, countries where immigrants arrive for the first time must interview them, screen them and process the applications of those who might want to apply for asylum. But Greece, Italy and Malta say the burden of managing the number of people coming in is too onerous.
Subsequent attempts to impose quota systems on countries to apportion migrants were challenged in court and ultimately abandoned.
The EU presidency, currently held by Sweden, has proposed a system whereby countries that do not want to receive migrants could pay money instead. Figures of around 20,000 euros ($21,400) per migrant have circulated in the run-up to the meeting. It is not clear if the idea will be accepted.