A Controversial Plan to Redistribute Migrants in Europe

Ministers approved the plan to distribute 120,000 migrants in the face of strong opposition from four Central European countries.

Migrants wait in Victoria square in Athens on Tuesday. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP)

European Union ministers approved a plan to distribute 120,000 migrants among the bloc’s member states in the face of strong opposition from four Central European countries.

Under the deal agreed to in Brussels on Tuesday, migrants now in Greece, Hungary, and Italy will be moved to other countries over the next two years. Of the three EU members that have an opt-out agreement with the bloc on migration, Denmark and Ireland are part of Tuesday’s deal. Britain, the third country, is not—though it is accepting 4,000 refugees this year, and 20,000 over the next five.

Tuesday’s decision in Brussels was made by a majority vote—a rarity in a bloc that typically operates through consensus. The dissenters were the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. Finland abstained while Poland, which opposed the deal, voted in favor. The Guardian adds:

Of the 120,000 to be divided between the remaining EU states, the nine countries of central and eastern Europe are being asked to take only around 10,000, while Germany and France between them will take double that number.

The divisions at Tuesday’s vote underscore the deep divisions in Europe over the migrant crisis—the region’s most severe since World War II. The crisis has been exacerbated by the Syrian civil war that has produced 4 million refugees. Although the vast majority of them live in camps in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, hundreds of thousands have made their way to Europe. Germany, which says it expects 800,000 asylum-seekers this year, is their top destination.

But while Germany, Austria, France, and Sweden have welcomed the migrants, the European Union’s newer members have not—and some of them have closed their borders, stranding the refugees. Some of that opposition was on display after Tuesday’s vote in Brussels.

Czech President Milos Zeman said via his spokesman “only the future will show what a mistake [the deal] was.” The Czech Cabinet will meet Wednesday to discuss how to proceed. The BBC reported that the Czechs will appeal the decision to the European Court of Justice.

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico told TA3 news channel his country would not take in the migrants.

“I would rather go to an infringement against the Slovak Republic than to respect this diktat of the majority, which was unable to push through its opinion using rational arguments and reach a consensus within the EU,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Zoltán Kovács, the Hungarian government spokesman, told The Guardian that while his country accepted the vote, the deal is unworkable.

“We believe it will be impossible to keep people assigned to, say, Slovakia if they want to go to Germany,” he said. “How do you keep people in one country if they want to go join their relatives who live in another EU country or want the more favorable social welfare benefits in that [second] country?”

Many of those objections are likely to be raised when EU leaders meet Wednesday to ratify the plan.

You can find the rest of our coverage of this story here.