24 Oct 2016, 45 mins ago

On 27 May 2015, the European Commission adopted the first proposals of its comprehensive plan to improve the management of migration across the EU.

European leaders had earlier pledged solidarity among Member States to address the common migratory challenges, following an increase in the number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean and the tragic loss of life since the start of 2015. It is estimated that over 1,800 people have died attempting to reach Europe this year alone.

Yesterday, the Commission said it was “matching words with action” by proposing concrete measures to respond to the crisis.

To assist Italy and Greece, the Commission is proposing an emergency relocation scheme under Article 78(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The initiative will apply only to Syrian and Eritrean nationals in need of international protection that have arrived either in Italy or Greece after 15 April 2015. Over the next two years the aim is to relocate 40,000 persons from Italy and Greece to other EU member states, and the commission is prepared to implement similar policies if other Member States – such as Malta – also face a sudden influx of migrants.

Alongside this emergency measure, the Commission has adopted a recommendation asking Member States to resettle 20,000 people from outside the EU. Member states who participate in the scheme will be entitled to financial support, with the EU making €50 million available in 2015-16.

The plan also sets out a number of actions to prevent and counter migrant smuggling. These include collating a list of suspicious vessels, dedicating platforms to enhancing communication with financial intuitions and cooperating with Internet service providers and social media to ensure internet content used by smugglers to advertise their activities is swiftly detected and removed.

A number of EU governments, many of them under pressure from anti-immigration parties at home, have expressed strong reservations about the proposals, especially the relocation of migrants from Italy and Greece. The UK is under no obligation to opt-in to the plan and the newly elected Conservative government, which wants to reduce immigration, said it would not take part in the scheme. The UK government rejects the idea of mandatory quotas entirely, which it seen as a “pull factor” for more migrants.

There is also strong opposition to the Commission’s plan in central and Eastern European states, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban describing the scheme as ‘bordering on insanity’. Under the bloc’s complex voting system, this could mean the proposals will not receive enough backing from individual member states to pass.

Germany has, however, backed the proposal and Spain has said it would apply the relocation quotas if approved. Visiting United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has encouraged EU governments to ‘show compassion’ in considering the proposal.

European leaders and their ministers were quick to state their commitment to dealing with the growing humanitarian crisis that is affecting Southern European countries in particular. It remains to be seen whether a unified response can be achieved given the opposing views of several member States as to the extent of what is required; and whether, like the Commission, European governments are prepared to match words with action.