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19th Jan 2019

EU forces 'voluntary' migrant relocation on eastern states

  • Czech Republic among the outvoted on Tuesday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU states agreed a legally binding plan Tuesday (22 September) on relocation of 120,000 refugees, in a vote which thwarted opposition from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia.

The vote marks an unusual EU step, in terms of forcing a minority of EU states to take action on issues of national sovereignty.

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In a sign of wider opposition, Finland abstained.

"We've reached an agreement with a very big majority, bigger than required by [the EU] treaty. We would have preferred unanimity, and it's not because we haven't tried", Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn told press after the meeting in Brussels.

He said the EU Council decision doesn’t include a European Commission “key” on how to calculate national relocation quotas, based on population size and wealth.

He also said this means the 120,000 refugee relocation scheme is "voluntary".

"The total remains 120,000 persons. Now these figures have been accepted by member states on a voluntary basis".

But he added that opponents must abide by the outcome of the vote.

"No country has the right to refuse”, he said. "I have no doubt that they will implement these decisions fully in line with community law”.

Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said he’ll “make sure” it’s implemented, adding that “infringement proceedings” could follow if it isn’t.

Asselborn tried to defuse tension. "We’re in an emergency situation, the EU is accused [of] not moving quickly, so we had to decide on this plan”, he said.

Bitter divide

But Tuesday’s events mark a bitter divide.

Slovakia’s prime minister said the same day: "As long as I'm prime minister, mandatory quotas won't be implemented on Slovak territory”.

Czech interior minister Milan Chovane said Prague might challenge the decision in the European Court of Justice.

The fiercest opposition had come from eastern European members, notably the Visegrad Four (V4): the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia.

They met several times in recent weeks to restate their opposition to mandatory quotas.

But the Czech Republic’s Chovanec tweeted on Tuesday: "Poland took a brake [sic]. I'm afraid for now it will only be V3 :-(".

The 120,000 figure includes relocation of 50,400 asylum seekers from Greece and 15,600 from Italy - two frontline states.

It also includes 54,000 proposed to Hungary, but refused by its PM, which is now available for Greece, Italy, or other EU states that appeal for help.

Messages

The vote comes ahead of an EU summit on migration on Wednesday.

Timmermans said EU leaders will discuss border security, fingerprinting of migrants, and repatriations of failed asylum claimants.

The leaders will agree an informal joint statement.

“It’ll say the EU should be more active in conflict resolution in its direct neighbourhood, more active in neighbouring countries, that it should strengthen dialogue with Turkey, and allocate more financial resources [to the crisis]”, an EU source told this website.

The French and German interior ministers, on Tuesday, also sent a message to EU neighbours.

France’s Bernard Cazeneuve and his German counterpart, Thomas De Maiziere, said Europe "can't take all those who are today in refugee camps" in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

They also said the EU needs more border security and faster expulsions.

EU diplomats tweak text on migrant relocations

Hungary's unused refugee relief quota can go to other states, while relocation refuseniks won't pay fines, according to the latest EU compromise on the migrant crisis.

Anti-migrant quota EU states meet in Prague

Foreign ministers from the main opponents of migrant quotas are meeting in Prague on Monday, as refugees continue to criss-cross the EU's "leaky" borders

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