Seen as a challenge across the international community, the flow of refugees has a greater echo in the minds of Europeans in the perspective of protecting the values the Union is promoting, notably solidarity. Nevertheless, governments, political parties, as well as the broader society seem to be divided on the question of acceptance of asylum seekers within the European member states. Although the division can be felt on different levels, a greater disagreement is occurring between the Western European countries and the Visegrad Group (V4) – namely Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
European Schemes for Relocation and Resettlement
Following highly debated controversies on the role that the Union needs to play in regards to several accidents in the Mediterranean Sea, the European Commission established its first relocation scheme in May 2015. However, still facing a huge number of asylum applications, the European Union decided, in September 2015, to set up new refugee quotas. The plan of relocating 120,000 people located in Italy, Greece and Hungary has been quite controversial amongst EU member states (Barigazzi and De La Baume, 2015).
The countries of the V4 are showing clear opposition to this relocation system. However, the extent and expressiveness of their disagreement differ from one country to another; and even from one ruling political party to another.
Fierce Opposition from the Visegrad Group
The Czech government voted against the proposal of the European Commission in September 2015 – alongside Hungary, Slovakia and Romania – and consequently rejected the imposed quotas, even though the mechanism entails to welcome a rather small number of refugees (Jurečková, 2016).
Hungary is the only country of the V4 having direct experience with the migration flow, due to the arrival of asylum seekers through the Western Balkan route. The discourses towards refugees addressed by the government are clear: asylum seekers are not welcomed in Hungary. Furthermore, the ruling-party, Fidesz, is relying on assertive advertisement campaigns to influence public opinion. With identity concerns at the background of the actions against refugees, the Hungarian government is also spending millions of Euros on national consultations in order to legitimate its policy (Bayer, 2016). Eventually, the case of Hungary will be remembered by the construction of the border fence to deter immigration (Dunai, 2017).
First, Poland did not go as far as the other members of the V4 on the rhetoric against refugees. In the beginning of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’, Platforma Obywatelska – the party in power at that time – emphasised the inability of the country to fulfil such capability-based solidarity, but in the end agreed to welcome a small number of asylum seekers, on the condition of them being affiliated with Christian faith (Györi, 2016). With the shift in the ruling party in 2015 in favour of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, the rhetoric against asylum seekers toughen. This change has since created more bonds between the V4 members, and their opposition to the Commission’s decision seems to renew and demonstrate their unity. Poland also tried to distance itself from the EU, as the ruling-party rhetoric usually highlights the fact that the refugee issue is not a Polish problem, but only concerns the European Union (Hassel, 2015).
The refugee quotas were also rejected in Slovakia and the country strives to tighten its borders. The Slovak government’s rhetoric, more than being only against refugees, is pointing at the religious affiliation of asylum seekers – predominantly Islam – which according to the Prime Minister Robert Fico “has no place in Slovakia” (Chadwick, 2016).
This coalition of the Visegrad Group against the EU immigration strategy illustrates the solidarity between these four countries under a background of discrimination against refugees.
EU Refugee Quota Scheme to Court
The opposition against the quota system recently reached a crucial turning point. Budapest is now fighting alongside the Slovak government in front of the Court of Justice of the European Union. Relying on security-threat rhetoric, Poland backed Hungary and Slovakia’s action (Bodoni, 2017).
The decision of the Court is going to be decisive for the future of the opposition to the relocation plan. Indeed, if the Court’s decision goes against Hungary and Slovakia, it would give more incentives to the European Union and the member states in favour of the quotas to pressure the Central and Eastern European countries to accept asylum seekers. On the contrary, a ruling against the EU relocation plan would mean that the quotas are actually a violation of EU law (Baczynska, 2017). This decision would strengthen the countries’ opposition, and may bring greater divisions amongst the EU member states.
Hence, the comprehensive European immigration policy seems to be failing to gather all member states around common decisions. Besides, the reactions of some countries to its implementation completely jeopardise the sentiment and goal of unity and solidarity between EU members.
The division of member states on immigration policy is leading to significant consequences, in a time when the Union is already facing huge difficulties, notably with Brexit and the democratic deficit. The migration crisis and the reactions of some member states might be revealing a deeper issue related to xenophobia and Islamophobia. Eventually, the European Union needs to take concrete actions in order to overcome this wave of non-toleration, as it goes against the values and core essence of the Union, and call into question the coexistence of different cultures across Europe.
Elodie Thevenin is studying for a Double Degree Programme in European Studies at Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland and the Institute of Political Studies in Strasbourg, France.
Baczynska, G. (2017). Hungary, Slovakia challenge quotas on asylum-seekers at top EU court. Reuters. Retrieved from: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrantsslovakia-hungary-idUSKBN186222
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