The European Union had to use one of its major supranational instruments to overcome a deep political crisis. The issue of refugees fleeing Syria has divided European leaders deeper than expected. In the absence of even a shaky common ground, EU ministers had to resort to Qualified Majority Voting (QMV), which is practically never formally put in use.
What does the barbaric practice Qualified Majority Voting mean for the layman not very much in tune with EU affairs and the famous acquis communautaire, which is the case of pretty much the totality of the public? Well, it is a last resort solution when member states cannot establish a common position on an issue there can be a vote. First of all, this voting system does not cover the totality of the issues dealt with by the EU, but most of the decisions are accepted through QMV. Secondly, it is qualified because you have to obtain grosso modo two-thirds of the votes cast, and not every country has the same weight to their votes. The greatest share is held by Germany, France, Italy and the U.K. with 29 votes and Malta has the lowest with three votes. The weight is proportional, to some degree, to the populations of the member states.
This QMV system was established to level the preponderance of large member states vis-à-vis small member states in the first years of European integration. As a matter of fact, the issue is not so much to form a majority, but to establish a blocking minority to prevent a decision from being taken. When the European Economic Community was formed, a single big member state could not block alone a decision through QMV, as it needed the support of at least one small state. That was the deal, between small Benelux Union countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg and the three big countries of Germany, France and Italy. Over time, with the increase in the number of member states QMV became a rather symbolic process, which was not used formally. The number of votes and majority thresholds were changed. Under the Treaty of Lisbon, a double majority system was introduced. The support of 55 percent of member states, or at least 15 out of 28, representing at least 65 percent of the EU population is needed to pass laws. The blocking minority must include at least four states.
Formally, member states do not vote. The existence of the system is enough to help different states to forge acceptable solutions. Very seldom is voting employed, but that has been the case recently for the issue of refugee contingents. Four member states, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic voted no. Finland abstained. Poland, vehemently opposing the relocation of refugees among EU states, had changed its stance and sided with the majority.
Plainly refusing to take in a very tiny number of refugees - 120,000 for the entirety of the EU, does not honor these opposing countries. Still, the mere fact that the QMV system was formally put is use shows the depth of the dissention among EU leaders. The prime minister of one member state, Slovakia, said that he will simply ignore that legitimate decision. "From my dead, cold hand" Robert Fico declared, as depicted in the Social Europe journal by Radovan Geist.
Not only is such a stance incredibly illogical, but coming from a center-left politician, it shows the enormity of the situation for EU countries. This is pure populism that will probably have benefits in the short term in form of votes. In the medium and long terms, it is utterly irresponsible. Such a stance will undoubtedly open wide the door to institutionalized xenophobia and will deepen even further the sea of misunderstanding between the EU public and the Muslim world, if such a description still has some meaning).
The EU has spent enormous efforts to tackle racism, xenophobia and every kind of discrimination. The fact that Soviet type socialism deeply traumatized Central and Eastern European countries can be accepted, their hatred against a top-down imposed international solidarity can be understood, but it can in no way be taken for a justification of their despicable attitude vis-a-vis the Syrian tragedy and refugees.