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E.U. Countries Consider Proposed Refugee Quotas Ahead Of Debate


This week's images of Syrian and other migrants huddled in detention camps, massing at the train station in Hungary have been images of chaos. Well, now the European Union is trying to impose some order on a crisis that raises questions about European institutions and even European identity. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a plan to resettle 160,000 migrants who are already on the continent, migrants who've been straining the resources of not just Hungary, but also Greece and Italy. That resettlement plan will be debated next week. A key advocate for the plan is the EU commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos. He acknowledges he faces some pushback.

DIMITRIS AVRAMOPOULOS: We have some signs that some of the states - about four - they are not willing to participate in this program. As you know, the decision to be made is a qualified majority, but even if one member state does not participate, it's not positive.

SIEGEL: You're speaking to us a European official. As a Greek, do you feel let down by the other countries of the EU so far in dealing with the migrant crisis?

AVRAMOPOULOS: No, on the contrary, European countries, Europeans institutions, from the very beginning, have shown solidarity towards Greece, but we must be frank. Everybody in Europe were caught by surprise. We could never imagine some years ago that we would be confronted with this crisis, and our systems were not well prepared. That's why I told you before that even the European Union did not have a comprehensive migration policy. Now we have it, and I can tell you that one of the models we would like to adopt in the future is the American immigration system. For me, it is one of the best in the world.

SIEGEL: Well, let me ask you about it. It's not just a system. The U.S. is an immigrant society. And as waves of immigrants have arrived in the U.S., the national character has evolved. It's changed. Are European countries, whose demographics often suggest that they could benefit from a good deal of immigration - are they prepared to become more diverse societies in the 21st century? Are they thinking in terms of becoming different countries in response to immigration?

AVRAMOPOULOS: Robert, Europe is an aging continent. We need skilled workforce. In some years from now, Europe will need approximately 120,000 workers. So what we do right now is to open legal ways for migration in Europe.

Let me me tell you, also, that there's a summit to be organized by the end of October in Valletta, Malta, where, for the first time, around the table, we shall have the leadership of Europe, all heads of states of the European Union and the heads of states of other countries - the countries of origin and the countries of transit.

SIEGEL: But as you plan these meetings, what about the people who are walking through Hungary to Austria? What's being done about that?

AVRAMOPOULOS: All these people - almost all of them - they don't want to stay either in the Balkans, in Italy, in Greece, and Hungary, right now, is under pressure. That's why we have decided to help Hungary. As you know, about 54,000 people will be relocated from Hungary to other member states.

Of course, the Hungarian authorities have a different approach on that, and I want to be frank with you. The idea of erecting fences is not a positive step. We have fought a lot in Europe in order to pull down, to take down fences and walls. And I believe everybody agrees that we must enhance and even more work in order to keep alive freedom of free movement within our union.

SIEGEL: Dimitris Avramopoulos, thank you very much talking with us today.

AVRAMOPOULOS: The pleasure's all mine.

SIEGEL: Mr. Avramopoulos, who spoke to us from Athens, is the European Union commissioner for migration. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.