(Reuters) – Germany said on Tuesday it wants European Union nations to overcome a deadlock on how to handle refugees and migrants this year, weighing in on a bruising dispute that has divided the 27-member bloc for years.
With Berlin holding the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of the year, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he wanted to get “at least a political agreement on the most important issues” to reform the bloc’s asylum system that collapsed in 2015 during a major increase in migrant arrivals to Europe.
“It’s always (just) a small number of member states willing to admit migrants and this in unworthy of the EU,” he said.
“If they are entitled to international protection, we should expect solidarity from all EU member states to admit these people. You cannot solve this question by leaving it to Italy, Spain, Malta or Greece.”
That goes to the heart of the dispute in the EU, where ex-communist, eastern countries including Poland and Hungary have dug in their heels, refusing to host any of the people fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
The EU has turned to tightening its borders and asylum laws, slashing the number of arrivals from more than one million in 2015 to 123,000 last year, according to U.N. data.
Seehofer said he hoped the reluctant countries would now reconsider, though a Polish diplomat stressed any legal obligation to host the new arrivals was a no-go for Warsaw.
Brussels is due to propose an overhaul of the EU’s troubled asylum rules after the 27 national leaders agree on a mass economic stimulus to recover from the coronavirus pandemic – another thorny theme requiring unanimity of all EU countries.
“Human mobility and cross-border trade… will be essential to recover from the COVID-19 engendered crisis,” the U.N. migration agency said in a statement on Tuesday, calling on the EU to ensure safe and legal migration, including for job openings.
(This story has been refiled to fix typos in bullet points)
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Mark Heinrich)