BRUSSELS - The European Commission proposed a long-awaited overhaul of the European Union's migration and asylum system on Wednesday, likely setting off a debate about what is one of the bloc's most politically sensitive issues.
The Commission's proposal for a New Pact on Migration and Asylum stipulates that EU member states that do not want to volunteer to house more migrants can instead take charge of sending those whose asylum requests are rejected back to their homelands.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told AFP this week that mandatory quotas for refugees for all EU countries "won't work", and Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia also oppose compulsory relocation, having torpedoed such plans after the 2015 migration crisis.
Frontline countries under excessive migratory pressure such as Italy and Malta can request the activation of a "compulsory solidarity mechanism" by the Commission.
All states will then be called on to contribute, according to their economic weight and population, but they will be able to choose whether to receive asylum seekers, "sponsor" the return of migrants who do not have the right to stay or help to build reception centers.
In the event of a crisis similar to that in 2015, the choice will be reduced to taking charge of relocating refugees or repatriating rejected migrants.
But if an EU country fails to return migrants to their country of origin within eight months, it must take them in.
EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said her office wants swifter returns of those whose asylum claims had been rejected.
"We have to return those not eligible to stay," she said. "I think it's necessary that the European Union must step up and be much more successful in doing the returns."
One way to speed up returns would be to introduce a procedure directly at the borders, she said.
The new proposal includes a mandatory pre-entry screening process when a person arrives in the EU and applies for asylum.
The migrant would undergo a health and security check. It would then be decided whether to send the person through the normal asylum procedure or an expedited border procedure, which would take a maximum of 12 weeks.
The proposals is likely to face opposition from all sides. It is far from certain that they will be approved by EU leaders and the European Parliament. Previous attempts have failed.