Member states of the European Union approved by a qualified majority on Tuesday a proposal to re-settle 120,000 asylum seekers across the continent.

The decision was taken, unconventionally, by majority voting due to fierce opposition from Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania. The decision effectively grants other member states the authority to impose sanctions against the countries in East-Central Europe unless they receive their share of the asylum seekers.

Finland similarly distanced itself from the majority of member states by being the only country to abstain from voting – despite promising to receive the 2,400 asylum seekers allocated to it by the European Commission.

“Our government programme clearly states that these internal transfers should be based on voluntariness. After consulting the Prime Minister and our coalition partners, [I decided that] Finland will abstain from voting but told in the same context that Finland will participate in the burden-sharing according to its allotment,” Petteri Orpo (NCP), the Minister of the Interior, explained.

The decision to abstain from voting raised questions among international journalists.

Orpo pointed out that Finland has ensured its fellow member states and the European Commission are aware of its views and readiness to take part in the burden-sharing throughout the preparatory process. “I therefore doubt it'll leave too big a mark,” he said.

The European Union did its utmost to avoid having to vote on such a sensitive issue due to its concerns that overruling the objections of the member states in East-Central Europe could further disrupt the harmony of the union.

Roberto Fico, the Prime Minister of Slovakia, announced in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday that Slovakia will not adopt the quota as long as he remains in power.

In addition, member states have already begun pointing the finger at each other for shifting responsibility to their neighbours by transporting bus and train-loads of asylum seekers from one border to another.

The member states in East-Central Europe have voiced their doubts about the quota scheme, pointing out that the member states have struggled to verify that asylum seekers stay in the country they are relocated to. “We'll soon realise that the emperor has no clothes. Common sense lost today,” Milan Chovanec, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, tweeted on Tuesday.

Orpo, however, estimated that the quota scheme is a step toward resolving the issue in Europe. “I'm much more concerned about uncontrolled migrant flows than about how these camps are doing in Europe. We must take control of the situation, and that requires decisions.”

The decision taken on Tuesday will oblige member states of the European Union to receive the number of asylum seekers allocated to them by the European Commission.

The European Commission has urged the member states to share the burden of asylum seekers arriving in Greece, Italy and Hungary. Hungary, however, has expressed its unwillingness to benefit from the scheme. The European Commission declared in a statement issued after the vote that asylum seekers arriving not only in Greece and Italy but also in other countries directly affected by the migrant crisis could be re-settled across the continent.

Virve Kähkönen – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT