EU proposal would see migrant-averse countries show 'solidarity' by paying up

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.

Money could be used for development projects in Africa to help stem flow of migrants to Europe

Despite statistics that show arrivals of migrants are far off the pace of 2015-16, EU countries are still grappling with the consequences and cumulative effect of significant numbers seeking asylum over the past few years. (Jon Nazca/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 toward 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 UN 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.

UN conference on migration next week

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.

Bulgaria on Wednesday became the latest EU country to shun a United Nations accord on regulating the treatment of migrants worldwide ahead of its formal adoption in Morocco next week.

At least five other EU countries, including the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, have expressed displeasure with the compact, even though it's non-binding.

This November 2016 photo shows people at a migrant camp in the town of Harmanly, some 250 kilometres from the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. The country has balked at taking in more refugees. (Vassil Donev/EPA)

"At this stage, the Bulgarian government believes that the decision not to join the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration protects to the fullest extent the interests of the country and its citizens," it said.

Bulgaria, a Balkan country with a population of seven million, lying on one of the main migratory routes from the Middle East to western Europe, says it is already taking steps to stop illegal migration and protect the EU's external borders.

The pact, which addresses issues such as how to protect people who migrate, how to integrate them into new countries and how to return them to their home countries, was approved in July by all 193 member nations except the United States, which backed out last year.

The UN conference will be held in Marrakech on Dec. 10-11.