EU governments have a duty to help the flood of migrants arriving in Europe and not cave in to “populist” demands to turn them back, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday.
In an interview with AFP Wednesday, Juncker said he was disappointed that EU ministers had failed late last month to agree on how to distribute a total of 40,000 mostly Syrian and Eritrean migrants from overstretched Italy and Greece.
They agreed to start relocating a little over 32,000 of the arrivals among the EUs 28 members in October, falling around 8,000 short of the target agreed by EU leaders at a summit in June.
“Ministers, unlike citizens, have an obligation to act. We made proposals that went far, while still being modest given the scale of the problem,” Juncker said referring to the proposals from the Commission, the executive arm of the EU.
“We proposed a mandatory system to redistribute asylum seekers and people who need international protection, but the member states did not follow us and we are forced to seek an agreement on a voluntary basis,” he said.
At a July 20 meeting in Brussels, EU justice and home affairs ministers agreed to relocate more than 32,250 Syrians, Eritreans, Iraqis and Somalis who had landed in Greece and Italy which have borne the brunt of the influx.
The ministers also agreed however to take in some 22,500 Syrian refugees currently living in camps outside the EU – exceeding their target for 20,000.
Juncker said the EU would resume efforts in the autumn to reach the 40,000 target.
“If we don't get there on a voluntary basis, we will have to reconsider the commission's proposals,” the former prime minister of the tiny duchy of Luxembourg said.
“But I want to believe that they will react ambitiously,” he said.
Juncker said governments had to be firm and take the lead, when asked how the EU can help share the migrant burden without provoking a backlash that only helps populist and xenophobic movements.
“There are moments in politics when you must not follow the populists, otherwise you become populist yourself,” Juncker said.
“You (EU member states) must not become blinded by populist thought which is present in every country,” Juncker warned in an interview with AFP.