Eric Vidal / Reuters

EU ministers fail to agree on plan to resettle 120,000 refugees

Luxembourg FM Jean Asselborn, who chaired EU meeting, concedes that not every member ‘on board’ with quota plan

Crisis talks attended by EU interior and justice ministers failed to yield agreement Monday over a plan to resettle 120,000 refugees across the bloc, with member states split over the proposed quota system intended to alleviate strain on the main entry points in Hungary, Greece and Italy.

After six hours of argument, the ministers put off a decision, saying they hoped to agree on a deal over how to adress the growing numbers of asylum seekers at another meeting on Oct. 8.

"Yes, not everyone is on board at the moment," Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn told a press conference in Brussels. But he added that there was a "large majority" in favor of proposals pushed last week by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, under which tens of thousands of people fleeing war in the Middle Wast would be redistributed under a “compulsory” quota system.

After a day of talks, Asselborn announced late Monday "it is premature for the Council to take a decision today." Luxembourg currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union’s ministerial councils.

“Even though we are in urgent circumstances we have to follow procedures," he said. Asselborn added that the issue would be discussed again in October.

Juncker’s plan came in response to a refugee crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of people head to Europe for sanctuary from conflict. The unprecedented numbers have led to chaotic scenes on EU borders and threaten to undermine the EU’s free travel policy among member states as more and more begin closing entrance points.

But despite the urgency of the situation, the EU has struggled to find a coherent plan that states can agree upon. And members in the bloc’s east had indicated prior to Monday’s meeting that they were against any compulsory quotas.

The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary were among the nations opposed to the plan in the run-up to the crisis talks. Monday’s meeting was aimed at trying to narrow the divide to the extent that a deal could be struck. But they failed in that objective.

"We did not find the agreement we wanted," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters. "The majority of member states are ready to move forward. But not all."

Avramopoulos added there had been "very heated debates at national and a European level."

"The commission is determined to take action. We will need another council meeting in the coming days," he added.

The quotas can be passed by a qualified majority under complex EU rules, but that would show a sign of disunity that the bloc can ill afford.

Ministers did, however, formally agree Monday to launch a plan first proposed in May to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy over the next two years, according to quotas suggested by the Commission. They also agreed to increase manpower and resources protecting the EU's external borders and to increase aid to the United Nations refugee agency. 

But that figure appears woefully inadequate given the numbers arriving every day in the European nations that serve as an initial entry towards richer member states in the west and north.

EU Vice President Frans Timmermans said the "numbers (being accepted) today are much too small" and warned of the growing risk to refugees as winter draws near.

Al Jazeera and Wire services

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