East European countries fracture a common EU position before the refugee crisis

European ministers agreed to the relocation of 120,000 refugees, voting against Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Czech Republic

30/11/2015


Heads of state and European governments wanted to give, in their last summit, a message of unity to the refugee crisis. Reality is that the East European countries fractured a common EU position before this great challenge. There were four countries that voted against a fairer and more equitable system based on quotas, showing the difficulties Europe faces to remain united.

An agreement was achieved on the relocation of 120,000 refugees in two years. However, it could not be unanimous. Diplomacy worked tirelessly to ensure that all Member States accepted a new system, leaving any reference to compulsory quotas. Despite all efforts, four countries voted against: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, with the abstention of Finland.

Therefore, the agreement was approved by a qualified majority without the support of the Eastern countries. Poland also threatened to reject the project but finally decided to vote in favor. Once the new system was adopted by the Council, all countries have the obligation to obey and receive the assigned refugee quota although their vote to it was negative. In addition, the Commission reserves the right to impose sanctions on countries that do not apply it. “The dictatorship of the majority”, dared to consider the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico.

However, approve a decision by qualified majority is as legal as to approve it unanimously. Treaties allow, in certain cases, to vote and approve resolutions by wide majorities, which prevents blockages made by certain countries. Some diplomatic sources acknowledged that generally they are not in favor of approving agreements without the decision being unanimous but on this occasion, it was clear that there was no other alternative.

The European Commission had also planned to help Greece and Italy and besides, to reserve a quota to release the crisis in Hungary. In order to do that, an output of 54,000 refugees was predicted to be reinstalled in other Member States. However, the government of Víktor Orbán decided to get out of the proposal despite being also one of the beneficiaries. The one who know how it came the proposal state that the Commission did not ask Hungary if it wanted to be a beneficiary of the program. It was simply included when receiving constant complaints of the Hungarian executive on the pressure to which the country was being subjected before the massive influx of refugees.

Hungary has closed its borders, raising fences between neighboring Serbia and Croatia. It has tightened its laws to stop anyone crossing the border illegally and has not hesitated to send the army to guard the external borders which are also of the European Union. All the signs seemed to indicate that they wanted some help to resettle some of the refugees in the country to other Member States. But it seems that was not the point.

The approved system is therefore as follows: Member States will host 66,000 refugees from Italy and Greece in the first phase. In a second phase, the remaining 54,000, who have been on a reserve and they likely also come from Greece and Italy, will be relocated. It might be possible that a country subscribes itself as a beneficiary of the program if it is overwhelmed by the influx of refugees, so that this number would be divided not only between two countries but between solicitors.

Reactions of the countries that voted “No”

The four countries that voted against the refugee distribution system did not give unanimous messages afterwards. As if it were a grayscale, with only four nations there was place from white to black. Romania had the more flexible position. It recognized that it will accept asylum seekers, in a sign of solidarity. At the other end of the scale, the most radical position was that of Slovakia, which will take to court the declaration adopted by the ministers and besides, it firmly rejects the relocation of refugees.

The Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said the number of refugees assigned to his country was “acceptable”. “I believe that Romania must show solidarity”, he added. “It can accommodate 1,785 refugees, if we always talk about a voluntary agreement”. The decision is taken. I understand that other countries plan to take it to court and we will wait to see the result” said Iohannis when arriving at the summit of Heads of State and Government of the EU.

The country that will bring the case to court will be Slovakia, the most rebellious country with European proposals. His prime minister intends not only not to apply the quota approved by a majority in Brussels but also to fail a complain to the Court of Luxembourg.

The Czech Republic will not go so far. Despite disagreeing with the quota system too, it was not considered an issue on which to “push ourselves” because all countries are members of the same club, although sometimes is hard to believe.

Hungary, finally, will no longer benefit from the program voluntarily. The country continues to insist on the need to enforce the rules, to control borders fiercely. And it offers support for those who “have trouble fulfill” this task. Prime Minister Víktor Orban launched this message in Brussels to Greece. “If Greece can not protect its border should leave others to do so”, he said.


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In this context, European leaders agreed to enhance economic value to countries in transition, with the approval of an additional billion euros and an increase of cooperation with countries like Lebanon or Turkey. Also, reinforce the return policy of those who are not qualified for asylum and increase border controls.

Block positions

Those involved. Those countries leading a supportive policy for the reception of refugees and calling for a united Europe in one of the most sensitive challenges.

Germany and France. Merkel will lead, together with Hollande, a policy of hosting refugees to enable a fair system of distribution.

Sweden. It is overturned in receiving refugees and it considers shameful rejecting quotas.

Spain and Portugal. Accept the quota assigned in Brussels on a solidary response to refugees

The indifferent. Countries that could join the distribution of refugees on a voluntary basis, although they are legally exempted thanks to an exemption clause according to European Treaties.

United Kingdom. Finally, it will not participate in the relocation project suggested by the European Commission. Refugees may hosted directly, without passing through the “European framework”.

Denmark. The Danish attitude goes further. It directly searches dissuading refugees arriving in the country. It expressly says that Syrians will not be hosted in Denmark.

The opposing: Nations do not support a distribution of refugees according to a system of compulsory quotas and which are not willing to accept the word imposition in a European text.

Hungary. It is the country that leads the block of rejection to refugees. It has been protected with fences on its borders and has tightened laws to stop people who enter the country illegally.

Slovakia. It also rejects the European proposal. It will refute the Council’s decision in court and threatens to not obey the agreed decision.

Czech Republic. It feels comfortable with the position of Hungary and the rejection of quotas imposed from Brussels.

Poland. Faithful follower of Hungary, it distanced itself in the voting and said yes to the distribution of refugees.//

Lidia Soria. Brussels