EU Forces Through Refugee Deal

Jacopo Barigazzi and Maia de la Baume, Politico, September 21, 2015

EU governments on Tuesday approved a controversial plan to relocate 120,000 refugees across the continent, forcing adoption of the measure over the objection of several countries that opposed mandatory criteria for the acceptance of asylum-seekers.

Four countries were strongly dug in against the proposal: Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Czech Republic. But other member states had the votes to pass it, using an EU rule that allows certain decisions to be made without a consensus. Finland abstained from the vote, diplomatic sources said, and Poland, which had been opposed to quotas, sided with the majority.

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Eastern European countries remained opposed to any plan that included a requirement from Brussels to take in asylum-seekers. Now they will have to do so under EU law.

The decision sparked a strong reaction from the governments that were opposed to it. Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico told his parliament’s EU affairs committee, “As long as I am prime minister, mandatory quotas will not be implemented on Slovak territory.”

The pressure to move on the refugee issue has been building throughout the past week, leading ministers to use the political “nuclear option” of qualified majority voting to adopt the relocation scheme. The voting mechanism is common for less-controversial measures, but has never been used for something as sensitive and divisive as refugee relocation.

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The agreement adopted Tuesday will relocate the 120,000 refugees from Greece and Italy, but not from Hungary as originally proposed by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in his State of the Union speech earlier this month.

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