June 1, 2017 / 12:31 PM / 6 months ago

Sweden says EU aid should depend on acceptance of refugees

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The European Union, facing smaller dues when Britain leaves, should make aid to poorer member states conditional on their willingness to accept asylum seekers, Sweden’s Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson said.

Both Poland and Hungary have refused to take refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East.

Like many net contributors to the EU budget, Sweden wants to cut the bloc’s spending in the long term, to avoid having to increase dues when Britain, also a net payer, leaves the European Union.

The German government, another net contributor, has said in a document seen by Reuters that members failing to meet EU standards on the rule of law could lose access to financing.

If implemented, both proposals would affect mostly Poland and Hungary, which have based their refusal to admit refugees on concerns over terrorism. Both also face criticism over their adherence to rule of law standards.

“It’s unreasonable that countries which have not fulfilled (EU) decisions ... about migration, still receive large contributions from EU’s structural funds,” Andersson told Reuters in an interview.

Andersson said Sweden was lobbying “very hard” to keep the budget at 1 percent of the total EU gross national income, meaning the total budget would be cut to around 145 billion euros ($163 billion).

“The EU has to cut its coat according to the cloth,” she said.

Andersson said that without cuts, Sweden, which pays around 40 billion crowns ($4.60 billion) to the EU each year, would have to pay as much as 10 billion more annually in the next seven-year budget cycle, starting in 2021.

Negotiations among EU governments over the next long-term budget have yet to start in earnest, but they will likely deepen a divide between wealthier payers in the west and poorer recipients in the post-communist east.

The EU budget accounts for only 2 percent of public spending in the bloc. But in some of the eastern countries transfers from Brussels contribute a much bigger share - some 8 percent of Poland’s budget and nearly a fifth of Bulgaria‘s.

Sweden has received more asylum seekers per capita than any other EU country in recent years and Andersson said Stockholm has lined up support for its proposal from Italy.

“As in all clubs, you can’t just receive, you also have to chip in,” Andersson said. “This is not just a legal matter, but also a political matter. If the union wants this, we’ll find a legal way forward.”

Around 1.5 million refugees and migrants reached Europe in 2015 and 2016, mostly landing in frontline states Greece and Italy before heading on to countries such as Germany, Austria and Sweden.

Reporting by Johan Sennero,; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Stephen Powell

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