The new Dutch presidency of the EU has said refugee arrivals must come down. Europe is relying on Turkey to absorb refugees but progress has been slow.
The EU has seen some progress from Turkey in stemming the flow of migrants following a deal reached late last year but is still far from satisfied with the continuing influx arriving in Greece, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said on Thursday.
"We have seen the first results which are encouraging but we are a long way from being satisfied," said Timmermans in Amsterdam, where he was attending the launch of the Netherlands' six-month presidency of the bloc.
"The only benchmark of course are the figures going down," the former Dutch foreign minister, who has led EU talks with Turkey on this issue, said. The number of refugees arriving was "relatively high, so there is still a lot of work to do there," he said.
Nearly a million refugees, many from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, entered the EU last year, often after making the boat crossing from Turkey to Greece.
The EU is pinning its hopes on a deal struck in November that would see Turkey crack down on human traffickers while better integrating and providing services for refugees in exchange for nearly 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) in aid and political concessions. Turkey has also agreed to take back economic immigrants that do not qualify for asylum in the EU.
Europe can't handle present numbers
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said that the goal of his country's presidency was to decrease the number of migrant arrivals and distribute refugees across the 28-member bloc.
"The numbers have to come down very much and very considerably," Rutte said. "We cannot continue with the present numbers."
A burden-sharing agreement that envisions 160,000 refugees in Italy and Greece being relocated across EU member states has barely had an impact amid stiff opposition from some states, with only 272 people having been moved so far.
The refugee arrivals are putting extreme pressure on the EU, whose treasured passport-free Schengen zone is under threat.
Germany, Austria, France and non-EU member Norway, which is also in Schengen, have all implemented limited border controls to better handle the refugee flows. This week Sweden, which has taken in 160,000 asylum seekers, followed suit, prompting Denmark to conduct spot checks on the German border.
Saving Europe's passport-free borders
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who spoke alongside Rutte and Timmermans, criticized members for putting up border controls.
"We cannot cope with this process where day after day another member state is reintroducing border controls," he said. Still, he recognized countries like Sweden have a "huge burden" to face.
The European Commission, the EU's executive body, is also working towards the creation of a new border force and strengthening Frontex, the EU border agency. However, the proposed border police force is facing resistance from some EU members over provisions that would allow the body to intervene without the invitation of a member state.
Juncker said he believed the Netherlands' presidency would successfully complete the EU plan to establish the European border and coast guard force by the end of its mandate on June 30.
cw/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)