EU interior ministers were set Tuesday to consider a contentious plan to redistribute asylum seekers across their bloc amid fresh tensions surrounding Italy — one of the countries hardest-hit by the influx of migrants trying to reach Europe.
The European Commission has proposed that 40,000 asylum seekers be relocated from Italy and Greece to other EU countries over two years, as part of efforts to lower the burden on the host countries.
EU member states have to approve the proposal for it to be implemented, but diplomats have said that several governments are expected to put up a fight amid disagreements on whether the relocation proposal should be binding and how many migrants should be sent where.
"There are some who say that our proposals do not go far enough, there are others who say they go too far," commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud acknowledged on Monday. "We think a decision has to be taken now."
The number of dangerous migrant crossings over the Mediterranean Sea is expected to increase in the coming months because of the better summer conditions.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has threatened to take unilateral steps to deal with the refugee crisis if EU peers do not offer any help. He has referred to an ominous "Plan B," without providing further details.
Italy is the main landing point for Europe-bound boat migrants, having registered roughly 60,000 landings since the start of the year.
"There can be no national selfishness and no closing of the eyes," Renzi said on Monday. "If Europe wants to be Europe, it must tackle this problem collectively."
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has also accused those opposed to the plan of "hypocrisy," while the human rights organization Amnesty International on Monday slammed the international response to the global refugee crisis as "shameful."
Tuesday's talks in Luxembourg come amid new intra-European tensions over the migration crisis.
France, Austria and non-EU member Switzerland have been turning back migrants from their borders with Italy, amid suspicions that Italy is inappropriately letting them travel on.
EU rules stipulate that a migrant's asylum claims must be processed in the first EU country they set foot in. But Italy has retorted that with record inflows, the rules have become inapplicable.
Italian Interior Minister Angelo Alfano was due to hold talks with his French and German counterparts in Luxembourg in the morning.
The 28 national leaders of the European Union will also discuss the migration crisis at a summit in Brussels next week.
The bloc is exploring several avenues to stem the flow of migrants and prevent deadly shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. They include a naval mission to crack down on migrant smugglers, which could be officially launched by EU foreign ministers next Monday.
By Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl
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