European governments have pushed through by majority vote a divisive deal to share 120,000 refugees after clashing over whether the quotas would be imposed on reluctant countries or left to be accepted on a voluntary basis.
Interior ministers met in Brussels for the second time in a week on Tuesday, aware that failure to agree a system of sharing would carry a very high price in the face of Europe’s biggest ever refugee crisis.
In a highly unusual move because of the lack of consensus, the decision to share 120,000 refugees was put to a vote which the supporters of quotas easily won but which will feed central European resentment of what they perceive as western – and especially German – bullying.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania voted against the decision to impose quotas, but Poland peeled off from its central European allies and voted yes with the majority.
The vote alienated the opponents of quotas on a highly sensitive issue and splitEurope into those who decide and those who will now have to accept refugees and migrants against their will.
Of the 120,000, the nine countries of central and eastern Europe are being asked to take only around 10,000, with Germany and France between them allotted double that.
The Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico, said the vote was unprecedented in EU history and vowed to defy it. “As long as I am prime minister, mandatory quotas will not be implemented on Slovak territory,” Fico told the parliament’s EU affairs committee.
The resettlement figures are small compared to the hundreds of thousands making their way to Europe from the Middle East. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development forecast on Tuesday that the numbers entering the EU this year would exceed 1 million, with more than 400,000 staying long-term in the end.
But the issue of the 120,000 became a signature contest because, along with a previous agreement to share another 40,000, it was the first time that an attempt had been made to agree refugee quotas across the EU.
National ambassadors from the 28 EU states spent the last three days drafting a 39-page deal for the governments, but key issues remained open amid deep divisions between Berlin and Brussels on the one hand and the newer EU member states of central Europe who are reluctant to take in refugees.
“This will be a hard meeting. I am not sure we will get a result,” Thomas de Maizière, the interior minister of Germany, said before the meeting began. Germany is taking in more people than the rest of the EU put together and is a strong supporter of the obligatory sharing. “Europe can’t afford this meeting to fail,” Maizière added.
A summit of EU leaders on migration is being held on Wednesday in Brussels at the behest of Angela Merkel, the german chancellor. The leaders did not want their summit to be hijacked by an unseemly squabble over quotas and ordered the interior ministers to strike a deal.
Theresa May, the UK home secretary, declared that “we need, as Europe, to get on with the job”, while simultaneously disengaging from any common endeavour. “The UK will not be participating in the [refugee-sharing] scheme.”
Uniquely in the EU, Britain has refused to take part in the resettlement of the 120,000 and has a legal exemption from having to take part. The other two countries with similar optouts, Ireland and Denmark, are offering to participate.
Read more: theguardian.com