After a long negotiation, the 28 European Home Affairs Ministers have voted in favour of the 120,000 refugee relocation program from Italy and Greece by qualified majority. European Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, had been travelling through the EU capitals in the last weeks to ensure that the vote would succeed.
The agreement was the product of a delicate negotiation, that left the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary voting against the relocation plan, and Finland abstaining. The countries that voted against and abstained will be participating in the scheme nonetheless.
The only member state not to participate in the relocation plan is the United Kingdom which has opted out. Denmark and Ireland, who have a similar exemption possibility from the EU treaties have chosen not exercise it.
On Wednesday, September 24, the European Commission will set out its proposals for the next steps in tackling the broader problem of the refugee crisis. More specifically, the Commission is expected to launch a new series of infringement proceedings to make sure member states uphold EU law, increase aid to the most affected EU member states, as well as countries in the western balkans and Turkey. These will form the basis for the discussion of the European Summit of the same day.
Speaking at the press conference following the council’s conclusion, First Vice-President of the Commission, Frans Timmermans said:
“This decision is an important and essential building block in a much larger approach.”
European Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, called the agreement a “Historic moment for migration policy at the European level.”
“Today’s agreement is a two-way street. We ask Member States that will benefit (from the relocation scheme) to use the support to improve and reinforce their national asylum systems, particularly on fingerprinting, border management and surveillance.”
This Agreement comes in addition to the emergency relocation program of 40,000 asylum seekers that was agreed on September 14. The Agreement also comes less than two weeks after the Commission’s obligatory relocation proposal, despite the strong objections stemming particularly from Visegrad states, the Baltics, Malta, Denmark, and Britain. To this end, the European Commission statement hailed the “tireless work” of the Luxembourgish Presidency.
Indeed, the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, was yesterday in Prague trying to meet the Visegrad four foreign ministers half-way on the redistribution plan. Joined by Latvia, the Central European states were coordinating their position at the meeting today and were bracing for a standoff.
Following the extraordinary Heads of State Meeting on Wednesday, the next milestone is the Justice and Home Affairs Council on October 8, when various reforms of the Dublin system will be addressed.