The European Commission proposed a system of distributing asylum seekers across the EU on Wednesday that aims to ease the load on frontline states like Greece and Italy but may face stiff resistance from governments in Eastern Europe.
The European Union executive published legislative proposals to reform the so-called Dublin system of EU asylum rules that includes a "fairness mechanism" under which each of the 28 states would be assigned a percentage quota of all asylum seekers in the bloc that it would be expected to handle.
The quotas would reflect national population and wealth and, if a country found itself handling 50 percent more than its due share, it could relocate people elsewhere in the bloc. States could refuse to take people for a year -- but only if they paid another country 250,000 euros per person to accommodate them.
"There is no a la carte solidarity in this Union," First Vice President Frans Timmermans told reporters. "This is a way to be able to show solidarity in a situation where ... you are not able to take the refugees which were allocated to you."
A two-year emergency relocation scheme was set up last year as Greece struggled to cope with the chaotic arrival of nearly a million people, many of them Syrian refugees, most of whom reached Germany. It was agreed over the furious objections of several central and eastern states, two of whom, Hungary and Slovakia, are contesting the quota system in the EU courts.
In fact, only 1,441 asylum seekers have been relocated out of the 160,000 allowed for under the current temporary scheme.
The proposals, which also include measures to speed up the process of handling asylum claims and tighter controls on the movements of migrants themselves, need backing from governments and the European Parliament -- a process that officials expect to be an uphill battle and involve many amendments.
Germany, the bloc's main paymaster and destination for the bulk of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, has pushed hard for a permanent relocation system and has voiced frustration with the refusal of governments in the east who benefit the most from EU subsidies to take in asylum seekers.
Poland, Hungary and other formerly communist states say immigration, especially from the Muslim cultures of the Middle East, would disrupt their homogeneous societies. Governments also object to paying as an alternative to taking people in.
A similar proposal last year to set a payment of 0.002 percent of GDP was not taken up in the temporary scheme. The Commission did not issue its quota figures. Last year's tables gave Germany a roughly 18 percent share, France 14 percent, Poland 5.6 percent and Hungary 1.8 percent.