The Czech Republic, flanked by a handful of other countries, was soundly defeated in a Brussels vote over the obligatory share out of refugees on Tuesday. But the Czech government is not taking the reversal sitting down. Prague is now pressing for practical steps to address the current crisis.
Promises that every effort to find a compromise over EU immigrant quotas between big EU states and traditional agenda setters, such as Germany and France, and a small group of hold out countries, including the Czech Republic, evaporated on Tuesday night.
The gap between backers and opponents of the mandatory quotas were just too great and the issue was pushed to a vote with little doubt over what the outcome would be. Votes on such divisive and controversial issues are usually avoided at all costs and the decision to enshrine the split between EU states with a vote has been widely described as a milestone.
The Czech Republic in the end lined up with Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania against the proposal to share out 120,000 refugees now in Italy and Greece throughout the EU. Poland, which had lined up earlier with its fellow Visegrad Four countries from Central Europe, eventually switched sides in what was diplomatically called a pragmatic move.
And there was no disguising the bitterness over the final outcome. Minister of Interior Milan Chovanec represented the Czech Republic at the meeting and has this to say afterwards: “We came to Brussels to defend common sense but that common sense has just been overruled. That’s a pity. We will have to see how things will develop. The Czech Republic will furnish an accompanying text which will state why we voted against and what sort of problems we will confront in fulfilling the quotas.”
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka reacted along similar lines: “I am convinced that the legal means to implement this system for sharing out refugees do not exist. In my opinion this system will not in reality be able to start up and it will end up as a major disgrace for the European Commission and the countries that have imposed this system.”
In practical terms, the Czech Republic will now be expected to take around 1,500 refugees to add to the 1,100 which Prague already said it would willingly host.
This battle may have been lost but the fight in some sense goes on. Prime Minister Sobotka said following a government meeting Wednesday that the Tuesday’s decision will be accepted. Slovakia had earlier said it would appeal the quota decision.
However, Sobotka said he will press at the extraordinary summit of EU leaders on Wednesday for some of the practical issues of the immigrant crisis to be dealt with. These include strengthening the outer borders of the Schengen zone, giving more help to EU countries bearing the brunt of the crisis, promoting peace in Syria, and creating asylum centres on the borders of the EU. If some of these steps are not addressed, the Czech prime minister warned that Europe will be unprepared to deal with the fresh wave of immigrants which is likely to start next Spring.
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