Last week, EU interior ministers pushed through plans to relocate 120,000 refugees across the continent. The decision was made by a majority vote, instead of a unanimous one. This unusual move, which some have labeled as divisive, is rarely taken when voting on such sensitive issues, and is usually reserved for more technical matters.
There was a great deal of pressure on Ministers to reach a deal that could be ratified by EU leaders, but the decision to accept a majority vote has angered some Eastern Bloc countries, who fiercely oppose the mandatory quotas, and risks severely increasing tensions throughout Europe.
Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Czech Republic voted against the proposal, whilst Finland abstained from voting. Hungary has openly questioned the feasibility of the plans, calling such quotas an invitation to economic migrants, and has therefore refused to take part in the scheme. This rhetoric was echoed by a defiant Slovakian Prime Minister, stating that as long as he is in power, “…mandatory quotas will not be implemented on Slovak territory”.
One reporter from Al Jazeera has claimed that “…opposition from the countries voting “no” has less to do with the numbers of refugees involved and more to do with the feeling that they are being bullied by Germany and Brussels”.
Several rows have erupted over the last few weeks regarding the right of the European Commission to tell national capitals how many asylum seekers they are obliged to take.
It was determined necessary to hold the vote as a matter of urgency, in the wake of an increasing number of country’s beginning to close their boarders to prevent refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, amongst other places, from entering the territory. States such as Germany, Italy, Denmark, Hungary, Austria and Slovenia have been forced to reinstate border controls following the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Refugees over recent months.
Hungary has also attempted to close its borders with Serbia, Croatia and Romania, as well as awarding new powers to its army and police in a bid to keep refugees out, after warnings from Prime Minister Viktor Orban that Europe had become “overrun”.
The legislation now allows the army to use rubber bullets; tear gas and nets against migrants, and the police are able to enter private homes to carry out searches for refugees who entered the country illegally.
There have also been a number of reports accusing Macedonian police of inflicting violence upon refugees attempting to cross the country from Greece.
The result of the scheme will see a total of 66,000 people – excluding the 40,000 who were approved for relocation in July – involuntarily moved from Greece and Italy to various other European countries by national police.
There will also be an additional 54,000 refugees relocated next year who were initially allocated to Hungary. However, claiming participation in the scheme would likely result in the State being transformed into a de facto refugee camp, they declined to take part, instead arguing that it would be far more effective for the EU to improve monitoring external boarders to better manage the arrival of migrants. Other States including Poland and Croatia have taken a similar stance on the subject.
Britain is not taking part in the scheme under an opt-out, similar to that of the Irish Republic and Denmark, but has agreed to take 20,000 migrants directly from camps in Turkey and North Africa by 2020; and has reportedly offered a sum of £1 billion in aid to deal with the Syrian crisis, according to the BBC.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, attended the summit last week. She stated: “We need to resolve this issue today so that we can actually get on with the job of dealing with the wider measures that Europe needs to take to deal with the migrant crisis”.
This statement strongly reflects opinions in Britain that too much time has been wasted in EU leaders arguing over quotas, which experts say will inevitably fail, whilst EU borders are on the brink of collapse.
It is feared that if such mass migration continues, the existence of the European Union could be at risk, and that the Schengen system will be completely destroyed.
The Minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn has stated that any objecting member states are still expected to accept the relocation scheme, as it is a strict requirement under EU law. The European Commission has reportedly stated that EU states refusing to abide by the program and accept allocated refugees will be subject to a financial penalty of 0.002% of GDP.
Germany is greatly supportive of the scheme, with Chancellor Angela Merkel calling mandatory quotas “a first step” in tackling the inflow of refugees to Europe. However, the United Nations Refugee Agency does not share this confidence, and is instead concerned that introducing quotas is shortsighted and simply not enough. Spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told the BBC “A relocation program alone will not be enough to stabilise the situation… The number of those needing to be relocated will probably need to be revised upwards significantly”.
Approximately 500,000 refugees have transitioned into Europe by sea to date. Greece is currently struggling with 50,400 refugees, and 4,000 more arriving every day, whilst Italy has approximately 15,600 at this point. Germany itself has seen 38% of the total number of EU refugees – around 80,935 – enter the country to claim asylum. Other states have seen significantly lower numbers, such as Portugal and Romania, with figures of 250 and 375 respectively.