UK not bound by EU quota plan for housing migrants

Migrants who attempted to sail to Europe sit in a boat carrying them back to Libya after their boat was intercepted at sea by the Libyan coast guard, at Khoms, Libya, 6 May 2015 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The UN estimates that 60,000 people have tried to cross the Mediterranean this year

The European Commission says the UK, Ireland and Denmark are not obliged to join any EU quota scheme for housing migrants, despite the migration crisis.

EU law says the UK and Ireland can "opt in" to such a scheme, within three months of it being proposed. But the EU cannot compel them to join in.

Denmark negotiated a blanket "opt-out" from the relevant treaty clause.

The Commission is planning quotas to help distribute migrants EU-wide, amid a surge in Mediterranean migrants.

On Wednesday the Commission will announce a "European Agenda on Migration" - policy guidelines to beef up the EU's laws for handling migrants.

Mandatory system

France, Germany, Italy and some other countries back the quota proposal. A majority of EU governments would have to agree for it to become law.

The UK Home Office opposes it, urging the EU instead to focus on combating people traffickers.

Image copyright PA
Image caption UK naval personnel are helping Italy to rescue migrants in peril at sea

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said: "I will argue for the introduction of a system of quotas... we will propose a system of relocation throughout the European Union - solidarity must be shared."

The Commission draft envisages "a mandatory and automatically-triggered relocation system to distribute those in clear need of international protection within the EU when a mass influx emerges".

Will EU quota plan for migrants work?

For months Italy has been struggling to cope with thousands of migrants heading for its shores aboard rickety boats from Libya.

EU states can come to the aid of a member state in a migration emergency, under a treaty clause called Article 78(3) TFEU, which says:

"In the event of one or more member states being confronted by an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of nationals of third countries, the Council, on a proposal from the Commission, may adopt provisional measures for the benefit of the member state(s) concerned. It shall act after consulting the European Parliament."

The Commission spokesperson told journalists on Tuesday that "the United Kingdom and Ireland will only be bound if they so choose" and "Denmark will not be bound by the rules and laws adopted under the European Agenda on Migration".

The UK Home Office said it was already supporting the EU's efforts to pick up migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, led by the Frontex border agency.

The UK has deployed a warship - HMS Bulwark - and search and rescue helicopters to the waters between Libya and Italy.