Germany and France on Tuesday sought to win over other EU members for a plan agreed in September on the relocation of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, in an effort to break a deadlock within the EU over the divisive issue.
At talks in Malta two weeks ago, the interior ministers of Germany and France agreed with Italy and Malta on a temporary mechanism to automatically take in migrants who reach their shores in rescue vessels.
Previously, rescue boats had to wait days for permission to dock, amid a back-and-forth among EU member states over who would take in those on board.
The German Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, played down expectations on Tuesday, arguing that the talks with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg would be an opportunity to present the deal.
He had previously expressed hope that up to half of the EU’s 28 member states might end up participating. But some other ministers expressed reservations on Tuesday.
“The goal is not to have a precise figure. The goal is to create a dynamic,” said French European Affairs Minister Amelie de-Montchalin.
Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Peschorn said his country would not participate, noting that “many EU member states” view the plan critically.
The Central Mediterranean route from Northern Africa accounts for just a small share of overall arrivals to Europe, he argued, pointing to migratory pressures in Greece and the Western Balkan route.
Seehofer has also come under domestic pressure over the migrant relocation plan, after saying that Germany could take in up to a quarter of arrivals.
The debate around this was “shameful” he said, noting that Germany had only been required to take in 225 people rescued at sea in the last 14 months.
He also dismissed concerns that the deal could encourage more migrants to set out on the dangerous sea crossing.
“I cannot tell that there has been a pull effect since our agreement,” he said.
Under the plan, rescue boats can dock in safe ports and rescued migrants should be allocated within four weeks to one of the participating member states, where they can make an asylum claim.
The mechanism, set to run for six months, will only cover migrants, who are rescued at sea.
According to the German NGO Pro Asyl, this excludes the vast majority of those who arrive in the EU to seek asylum.
Greece in particular is straining under a new surge in arrivals from Turkey.
Athens, together with Bulgaria and Cyprus, sought to draw attention to their plight in a joint paper prepared for Tuesday’s talks.
In recent months, the Eastern Mediterranean route “was not properly addressed in spite of the fact that all relevant reports confirm the increasing, persisting trend of arrivals in this region,” it says, warning of an “emerging crisis.”
The three EU states call for a mechanism to redistribute migrants from all front-line member states, while stressing the importance of a 2016 deal with Turkey to stem migration.
Seehofer, along with EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, was in Turkey last week to reassert their commitment to that deal.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan has threatened to let more refugees reach Europe if the bloc does not boost its funding.
The issue is also expected to be discussed at the Luxembourg talks.
Edited by Fatima Sule/Felix Ajide