STRASBOURG • European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged EU governments yesterday to accept a mandatory system to share out a wave of refugees fleeing war and poverty, but also promised to improve frontier defences and deport more illegal migrants.
In his first State of the Union address to the European Parliament, he outlined an emergency plan to distribute 160,000 refugees among the 28 European Union member states and promised a permanent asylum mechanism to cope with future crises. Under the plan, Germany would take the most refugees, 31,443, and Malta, the fewest, 133.
Mr Juncker has proposed a loophole for opponents of quotas such as the Czech Republic, giving them the alternative of paying a sum equal to 0.002 per cent of gross domestic product as long as they have "justified and objective reasons".
Defending his much-criticised proposal for mandatory burden-sharing, he said Europe could not leave Greece, Hungary and Italy, the main receiving countries, to cope with the flood of refugees.
We need a binding agreement on the binding distribution of refugees according to fair criteria between member states. We cannot just fix a ceiling and say I don't care about anything above that.
GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL
EU justice and interior ministers will have a first look at the proposals on Sept 14. Some politicians have called for that meeting to be followed by a leaders' summit, which would be the third top-level negotiating session on the refugee influx since April.
Germany is open to the idea of an extraordinary EU summit on the record numbers of refugees coming to the bloc, a government spokesman said yesterday.
"Of course, the government is open" to the idea, said Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Mr Steffen Seibert, adding that it was up to EU President Donald Tusk to call such a meeting. Mr Seibert pointed to the upcoming meeting of EU interior and justice ministers and said "everything will be decided in light of this meeting".
While budgeting extra money to shelter and integrate certified political refugees, Dr Merkel has backed a Europe-wide resettlement system to ease the strains on Germany and called for hastier deportation of "economic" migrants.
"Many will become new citizens of our country," Dr Merkel told German lawmakers in Berlin yesterday. "Those who come to us for economic reasons and not asylum will not be able to stay."
She told the Bundestag: "We need a binding agreement on the binding distribution of refugees according to fair criteria between member states. We cannot just fix a ceiling and say I don't care about anything above that."
Mr Juncker also pledged to improve the management of the bloc's external frontiers, bolster its Frontex border agency and moves to create "European coast guard and border guard systems".
He also proposed a better system for legal migration to attract talents from around the world to the ageing continent.
Underscoring the difficulties transit countries such as Hungary face, at least 400 desperate migrants broke through police lines at the flashpoint town of Roszke on Hungary's southern border with Serbia, yelling "No camp!" as they scattered in all directions.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday bowed to pressure to increase refugee numbers in the face of the Middle East crisis and confirmed Canberra will also join US-led air strikes on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group in Syria. Mr Abbott said it was obvious many Syrians would never be able to return to their homes as he announced Australia would take an additional 12,000 refugees from the Syria-Iraq conflict.
The government will also pay to support more than 240,000 displaced people in countries neighbouring Syria and Iraq, funding food, water, healthcare and other supplies, at an expected cost of A$44 million (S$43.7 million).
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE