Binding refugee quotas divide EU: sources

The final plan is supposed to be put before EU leaders at their June 25-26 summit

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EU plans for binding refugee quotas across the 28-nation bloc could be sunk because Britain, Ireland and Denmark do not have to accept them, European sources said Tuesday.

The European Commission, the EU executive, is due Wednesday to present a new migration policy which will include quotas after the worst migrant shipwreck left 750 people dead in the Mediterranean last month.

As the death toll mounts off its southern shores, the European Union is trying to put in place a strategy to deal with both the growing number of arriving refugees and to halt the inflow at source in conflict-torn North Africa and the Middle East.

The final plan is supposed to be put before EU leaders at their June 25-26 summit but immigration is such a sensitive political issue for many member states that agreement could prove elusive, especially when it comes to sharing the burden.

Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said on Tuesday that Britain and Ireland have “opt-in rights” on certain policy areas under EU treaties, meaning in this case that they had the right to decide whether or not to participate in a quota system.

“Denmark has an opt-out right whereby they do not participate at all” on this issue, Bertaud added.

The exemptions granted to the three countries are making it difficult for the commission to impose binding quotas on the 25 remaining EU member states, European sources told AFP.

The issue is so divisive that after further talks Tuesday, officials still had not fashioned an agreement before the 28 EU Commissioners were due to meet Wednesday to formally sign off on the new migration policy, the sources said.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said he wants the quotas to be binding, commission sources told AFP, but Britain, among others, has insisted it will only accept quotas on a voluntary basis.

“Some member states have already made a major contribution to global resettlement efforts,” said a draft copy of the proposals seen by AFP.

“But others offer nothing -- and in many cases they are not making an alternative contribution in terms of receiving and accepting asylum requests or helping to fund the efforts of others,” the draft added.

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