The bloc wants to persuade its most anti-immigrant member countries to agree to a common policy. But the future of its new plan, like many of its details, remains uncertain.
The European Union on Wednesday unveiled a new attempt to cajole reluctant member nations into participating in a common system for handling asylum seekers, offering them both cash incentives to take in refugees and quicker deportation of people who are denied asylum.
The proposal by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, would end the quotas adopted five years ago that set the number of refugees each country should accept — quotas that some countries, like Hungary, have simply ignored without penalty.
The commission would replace that system with one it hopes would win the cooperation of all 27 member states, but it omitted crucial details about how the new arrangement would work. It did not make clear, for example, what penalties, if any, there would be for any E.U. countries that refuse to take part.
It would also continue to place a large burden on Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain — countries at Europe’s southern edge, where undocumented migrants most often arrive on the continent. Those countries have chafed at taking the lead in processing asylum applications, which can take more than a year, and at hosting thousands of migrants until they are either granted asylum or deported.
The European Commission plan would offer countries like Denmark, Austria, Poland and Hungary 10,000 euros, about $11,700, for each refugee they accept, ostensibly to cover early costs of travel and housing. It also invites countries in the bloc to assist in the long, cumbersome process of trying to send rejected asylum seekers back to their home countries.
It is not yet clear whether the proposal — laid out in more than 500 pages of documents released on Wednesday, and touching on more than a dozen pieces of E.U. legislation — will survive the labyrinthine approval process, and if so, how the blanks will be filled in. Officials hope a version of it will be agreed to next year.
“The package reflects the complexity of the issue and brings together all aspects of migration border management, screening, asylum, integration, return, and relations with external partners,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president. “It is not a question whether member states should support with solidarity and contributions, but how they should support.”
The plan comes five years after the refugee crisis brought one million people to Europe’s shores, primarily people fleeing the war in Syria, creating a humanitarian disaster and fuelling a rise in anti-immigrant politics across Europe. The numbers of people reaching Europe have since plummeted, with about 140,000 requesting asylum last year, but elements of the crisis have persisted.
The commission’s plan proposes to speed the handling of people from countries whose migrants win asylum less than 20 percent of the time. It calls for screening, registering and sorting them within five days, fast-tracking deportation of those who are denied asylum, and giving them just 12 weeks to appeal a denial.
But when the bloc tries to deport asylum seekers, it usually can’t, because the migrants’ home countries refuse to take them back — a fact that no E.U. legislation can change. Only one-third of rejected applicants actually return, the commission said, contributing to overcrowded camps and leaving people in legal limbo for years.
Another element of the E.U. proposal would allow member nations to “sponsor” the deportation of migrants — an attempt to encourage all members to contribute to the new system.
The idea is that such a country would aid in the cumbersome process of deporting a failed asylum seeker who is living elsewhere in Europe. If the person was not repatriated within eight months, the sponsoring country would take in the migrant.
“Return sponsorships are interesting and might attract some countries, but if Greece didn’t manage to send someone back, would say, Hungary be responsible for them down the line?” asked Steve Peers, a professor of E.U. law at the University of Essex in England.
There was no indication in the plan as to what would motivate the countries, like Hungary, that have pushed back hardest against migration, to agree to play the role of sponsor, shouldering both the bureaucratic burden and the chance of being told to accept the migrant.