Rather than turning its back on anyone, European governments are starting to realize that their approach, which has been focusing merely on managing migration instead of stopping it, is not sustainable. The proposal concerning family reunification set out by the European Parliament in a recent report on the Dublin system reform scares even the government in Berlin because it would bring even more asylum seekers to Germany.
Mainstream parties in Western Europe can’t afford to reject this approach in principle, like Central Eastern European countries do, but they do what they can to avoid its negative consequences. Austria’s new government, even with the FPÖ as a coalition partner, is most likely to remain completely pro-European. But after winning the chancellory with the FPÖ’s anti-immigration slogans, Sebastian Kurz must produce results.
Once European governments agree to secure the EU’s external borders and handle migration outside EU territory, rather then praising legal immigration, the discourse will become a lot less heated. Central Eastern European countries are particularly sensitive about their sovereignty, but even Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a recent interview with Die Welt that he’s ready to participate in an asylum mechanism if the country’s sovereignty remains unharmed.
The European Commission’s attitude toward the Visegrád Group of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia—in particular Hungary and Poland—is highly problematic, because it seems to lack consistency and respect.
The commission’s decision to start infringement procedures against Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw for opposing the EU’s migrant-relocation mechanism, which other member states have not fully implemented either, shows double standards. This attitude, combined with harsh criticism of the Hungarian and Polish governments by European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, might give some tiny, false momentum to the unsuccessful liberal oppositions in Hungary and Poland, but it adds far more to Euroskepticism in the two countries.
Euroskeptic feeling is fueled by disappointment from, among other things, the still-striking wage gap between Eastern and Western Europe. Constantly criticizing Central and Eastern European countries and threatening to cut the cohesion funds they receive is humiliating and reckless. In Hungary, the EU’s approval ratings are higher than in other states, so it isn’t worth wasting the EU’s good name.
As the Hungarian government has been saying, when the EU is facing its biggest set of challenges since World War II, it’s high time to take care of real problems instead of picking on economically successful member states.
The countries of the Visegrád Group—the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia—proposed the idea of flexible solidarity at an informal EU summit in Bratislava on September 16. By saying that Central and Eastern European countries are destroying solidarity, Western European politicians mean that these countries don’t want to participate in the European Commission’s relocation scheme for migrants. But, Visegrád leaders argue, member states should help deal with the refugee crisis according to their experience and capacity, and participating in the relocation scheme is not the only way.
The Central European position reflects not a lack of solidarity but a refusal to accept a dangerous idea. By redistributing refugees according to quotas, the EU sends an invitation to the masses who are heading toward Europe. Furthermore, the system mostly works only in theory. Just look at the example of Latvia: of the 23 refugees relocated to the country under the scheme, almost every single person has already moved to Germany.
The most up-front statements regarding migration come from Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who emphasizes the importance of securing the EU’s external border. Orbán wants to stop immigration, while the European Commission wants only to organize it. The fundamental difference between the proposed solutions comes from that contradiction. Threatening Central and Eastern European states with the suspension of EU funds and treating them as second-class members doesn’t help unity either.