European Council President Donald Tusk has been heavily criticised for a letter he sent to EU leaders in which he called for the bloc’s migrant quota system to be scrapped. In the original letter which was intended to provide talking points for the EU Council meeting taking place this week, Tusk called the scheme “highly divisive and ineffective.” The quota system was designed in 2015 during the height of the refugee crisis as thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa were landing daily on Europe’s Mediterranean shores. Under the scheme, each member state was to accept a share of asylum seekers proportional to its population. A deep rift quickly formed between those countries willing to take in the newcomers and those, particularly in the so-called Visegrad group including Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary who were deeply opposed to the mandatory resettlement.
Last week Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic were referred to the European Court of Justice for their failure to implement the policy.
In his draft letter Tusk said: “the EU’s role is to offer its full support in all possible ways to help member states handle the migration crisis. But the EU has neither the capacity nor legal possibilities to replace member states.” This was seized upon by representatives from Germany and Sweden and other members states that have shouldered the burden of new arrivals as capitulating to the Visegrad group and an abandonment of the principle of solidarity.
EU migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos also came out strongly against Tusk’s letter. “My position is very clear,” Avramopoulos told reporters at a press conference in Strasbourg. “The paper prepared by President Tusk is unacceptable. It is anti-European, and it ignores all the work we have done during the past years and we’ve done this work together. This paper is undermining one of the main pillars of the European project, the principle of solidarity.”
Clearly chastened by the criticism, in the final draft which was presented to EU leaders in Brussels, Tusk had amended the text to restate the role of the EU in dealing with migration and edited out the lines about it being the sole competence of the member states.