Migration ministers from all 28 EU member state met in Brussels on Monday in an attempt to finalize European Commission plans to resettle 40,000 refugees based in Italy and Greece and another 20,000 asylum seekers from outside of Europe.
The original relocation proposal announced earlier this year by the European commission called for a binding distribution of the migrants across member states to alleviate the asylum demand pressure on Greece and Italy, where most migrants first land after crossing the Mediterranean.
But after several hours of talks, the European Commission's plan remained in limbo as some nations asked for more time before committing to a set quota.
Spain had rejected the compulsory quota plan and instead offered to relocate just 1,300 migrants as part of the scheme, a figure representing less than a third of the commission’s original proposal.
Speaking in Brussels after the meeting, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, the Spanish Interior Minister said that he “radically disagreed” with the European Commission plan on migrants arguing that it sends the wrong message to migrants and the organizations that traffic them.
He likened Europe’s immigration problem to “a house suffering lots of leaks that is flooding different rooms” and dismissed the proposed solution as “the distribution of flood water between the rooms rather than plugging the leak,” reported Spanish daily newspaper El Pais.
“The Spaniards had some difficulties with the figures proposed by the Commission”, said a French diplomat according to the EU Observer.
The meeting saw nations make voluntary provisions to relocate 32,000 migrants but that leaves another 8,000 who need to be allocated by the end of the year, the EU said.
“We are almost there. The remaining 8,000 will be allocated by the end of this year, by December,” EU home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a press conference.
“I want to be frank with you. I am disappointed that this did not happen today but it was a very important step forward,” he said.
“This shows that a voluntary scheme is difficult to implement and whenever it was tried before, it has failed,” he added.
At least 1,900 migants have died this year attempting to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe out of an estimated 150,000 who have made the crossing, said the International Organisation for Migration earlier this month.
The migrants are seeking refuge from conflicts and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
Some governments – including those in central and eastern Europe – objected to earlier EU proposals to establish quotas on migrant arrivals.EU sources said the countries that were most reluctant to admit migrants were Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Baltic countries and Spain.
Germany and France have offered to take the most with 10,500 and 6,752 respectively, while Sweden,which already accepts the most asylum seekers per capita in the EU, offered to relocate just over 1,800 migrants as part of the scheme.
Both the UK and Ireland have opt-in on justice and home affairs policies and don’t have to participate. But Ireland decided to take in 600 people anyway.
Denmark’s opt-out clause on justice issues means it won’t be involved.