Justice ministers “snatched victory from the jaws of defeat” the vice-president of the European Commission admitted after a U-turn on the refugee crisis by eastern European countries.
While four countries initially voted against agreeing to take a named number of refugees from the front-line Italy and Greece over the next two years, they said they would take their share in the end.
The decision by Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, and Slovakia averted what threatened to be a serious split in the EU over fundamental values and treaty rules that underpin the union.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she would have preferred if there was full agreement by all states rather than the vote, but the most important thing was that there was a decision in terms of the humanitarian crisis and for a coherent European approach.
Ireland will be among the first to welcome refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, and possibly Afghanistan with the minister saying the country will be ready to accept in the next few weeks the first of 3,500 spread over the next two years. Ireland opted in but did not have a vote. The minister said she will bring the decision to the Dáil next week.
First however, she said every country will appoint liaison people to work with the so-called hotspots being established in up to six refugee centres in Italy and the one in Greece where people eligible for asylum will be identified.
Hungary refused to be part of the scheme including availing of the initial plan to take 54,000 of the refugees they were looking after. These numbers will now be taken from Italy and Greece next year.
Commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans warned the commission would ensure countries complied with the decision, which was their role under the treaties.
The Czechs objected because they said they did not want the commission telling them how many to take, the Slovaks and Hungarians objected to the whole idea, and Romania objected because they are still not part of the Schengen free border area.
EU leaders including the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, will hold an emergency summit in Brussels today to flesh out a longer term response, including helping countries outside the EU maintain refugee camps and co-operation on returning those who do not qualify for asylum.