August 21, 2015 / 3:52 PM / in 2 years

EU rebuffs criticism of migration crisis response

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU executive rebuffed criticism that it has been slow to deal with Europe’s migration crisis, saying on Friday that it was not Brussels but disputes among member states which were holding up joint action.

A group of immigrants who have made through police blockades arrive at the Gevgelija railway station August 21, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Asked about a remark by German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere that “European institutions” were too slow in reacting to record numbers arriving at EU borders, a spokeswoman for the European Commission told reporters that existing proposals from the executive had yet to win full support from governments.

“The proposals are all on the table,” Annika Breidthardt said. “It’s time that member states adopted them.”

“We can only succeed if we work together on this, not against each other,” she added, noting that the Commission had put forward a comprehensive strategy in May. “We’re certainly not the ones that have stood in the way of implementing it.”

In June, EU governments rejected a push by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to set mandatory national quotas for states to take in some of the tens of thousands of refugees and migrants crowding ashore in Italy and Greece.

Negotiations continue on ways to share the burdens but are marked by mutual recriminations among the member states over their efforts to protect the bloc’s external frontiers and respect rules that keep EU internal borders open.

“The Commission has worked day and night throughout the summer to support the member states,” Breidthardt said, noting EU financial support for Greece and other countries, as well as technical work to process people arriving and to increase efforts to send back those who are not fleeing imminent danger.

On Thursday, noting a meeting between de Maiziere and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and separate talks between Cazeneuve and his British counterpart, senior figures in the Commission issued a statement welcoming new signs of cooperation among often divided states on dealing with the migration crisis.

“The Commission supports the strengthening of cooperation between member states,” Juncker’s deputy Frans Timmermans and Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said. “We have made incredible progress in the course of just a few months and we are getting increasing support for a genuinely European response. But ... we all need to do more, together and swiftly.”

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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