Dutch prime minister seeks sharp reduction in EU immigration

The European Union must significantly reduce the numbers of arriving migrants because the bloc will not be able to cope if the current trend continues, Dutch Premier Mark Rutte said Thursday, representing his country's EU presidency.

The European Union is experiencing the biggest population movements since World War II, stretching capacities in member states and triggering disagreement on how best to manage the arrivals.

More than 1 million people reached Europe last year, with many fleeing war and conflict in countries such as Syria.

"The numbers have to come down very much and very considerably," Rutte said. "We cannot continue with the present numbers." The Netherlands has just taken over the EU's rotating six-month presidency.

EU countries must also share the burden of hosting refugees fairly and ensure adequate domestic reception capabilities, the Dutch premier said.

Last year, the 28-member bloc agreed to a mandatory redistribution of asylum seekers within the bloc, but the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland all opposed a vote expanding the scheme to an overall 160,000 people.

So far, fewer than 300 asylum seekers have been relocated from frontline member states Greece and Italy under the mechanism.

The EU's approach is also focused on securing the bloc's external borders and reducing the number of arrivals. It has agreed a series of measures with Ankara, as many people have been reaching Europe by crossing from Turkey into Greece.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said in Amsterdam that Turkey had taken some steps to curb the outflow of refugees, but added that "we're long way from being satisfied." He said he would hold talks in Ankara on Monday.

Rutte and Timmermans were speaking at a joint press conference with commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who visited Amsterdam with the members of the EU executive at the start of the Netherlands' half-year term as leader of the bloc.

Juncker criticized countries for imposing border controls in spite of Europe's border-free Schengen agreement.

"We cannot cope with this process where day after day another member state is reintroducing border controls," he said, while noting that he had some understanding for countries such as Sweden that have a "huge burden" to face.

Denmark, which has been receiving far fewer asylum requests than its Nordic neighbour, also reintroduced temporary border controls this week. The commission has so far given its "prima facie" blessing to the move, but is still investigating the matter further.

Last update: Thu, 07/01/2016 - 14:06

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