December 6, 2018 / 4:11 PM / 2 years ago

France and Germany, soften demands on EU hosting refugees -document

* Countries could buy their way out of distribution scheme

* Political agreement likely to take time, diplomats say

By Peter Maushagen

BRUSSELS, Dec 6 (Reuters) - European Union governments that refuse to host refugees could instead pay to be excused from the bloc’s system of sharing out migrants, France and Germany proposed on Thursday as they sought to end a long-running EU feud over migration.

According to a document circulated to EU interior ministers in Brussels and seen by Reuters, the plan would still make hosting migrants an obligation for the bloc’s governments, but exceptions could be made if countries made “alternative measures of solidarity”.

That EU language is code for paying into the EU budget or paying towards development projects in Africa, diplomats said, and seeks to end divisions between EU states such as Germany, which are willing to take in refugees, and eastern countries such as Hungary, who reject granting asylum.

Mediterranean arrivals of migrants and refugees are below 100,000 people so far this year, according to U.N. data, but the 2015 influx that caught the bloc unprepared has hardened southern and eastern EU governments against migration.

The document said the European Union would need a proper mechanism to avoid a situation in which all EU governments opted to pay their way out of any hosting responsibilities and would set an eight-year period for any arrangements.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said in October more development money for Africa could be an acceptable compromise for eastern, formerly communist EU states that are refusing entry to refugees, mainly from Muslim countries.

Germany, France and the Netherlands had previously demanded solidarity from all EU states, but now appear more open to others buying out of the refugee distribution scheme, which was first set out by the European Commission in a series of proposals 2015.

Any political agreement is likely to take time, diplomats said, not least because Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the eurosceptic Italian government have built their political image on anti-immigration policies. (Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Alison Williams)

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