Political Instrumentalizations of Europe’s Migration Crisis and New Alliances in the Making
This is the third of a four-part series of posts on Poland’s, Hungary’s and the Czech Republic’s perilous play with the EU’s refugee relocation agreement.
The EU’s criticism of the V4 defiance focuses mainly on lacking solidarity of these countries. Moreover, Hungary’s government has been criticized by the EU for the domestic politicization of the migration crisis. While Hungary was the only V4 country on the migrant’s route and the country was subject to highest number of asylum applications in 2015 in the entire EU, it has been argued that the majority party Fidesz’ government under Viktor Orbán intentionally stirred up anti-migration xenophobia in order to boost its ailing popularity at home. The alleged goal was “to cement its own power through artificially sustaining an air of anxiety”. In particular, the October 2016 referendum in Hungary on the EU relocation scheme was interpreted as an instrument of domestically exploiting the migration crisis.
Nevertheless, the Polish government has backed Budapest since October 2015. This is because the migration crisis has become a central issue also for the political discourse in Poland, even though Poland was not located on the Balkan migration route. Warsaw has become an adamant critic of the relocation scheme stressing its repressive nature and pointing out that migration policy is a prerogative of the member states, and that the redistribution mechanism is a way to attract more migrants. The Budapest-Warsaw axis raised suspicion that Warsaw and Budapest play a blame game against Brussels to mobilize their supporters at home and to support each other within the EU mainly in the context of the rule of law criticism against both right-wing governments by the EU institutions.
But there is also the Czech Republic, which is beyond any democratic backsliding critique. Even though the Czech Republic seems to be the least critical of all V4 countries, migration has become a dominant topic in the Czech political discourse, with upcoming parliamentary elections taking place in October 2017. The position of Prague focuses on the protection of the EU borders, rather than the relocation of migrants, as the country sent its police units to Greece. Milan Chovanec, the Czech Ministry of Interior argued that the relocation of refugees should not be obligatory, but rather more support should be given for the European Asylum Agency and the European Border and Coastal Guard Frontex. After the infringement procedure was initiated, the Czech interior minister, accused the EU of “putting its head in the sand”, as the bloc would believe that any refugees and migrants forced upon his country would stay rather in the designated countries than move to the more prosperous countries in the West of the EU such as in particular the three largest Eurozone nations Germany, France and Italy.
The V4 countries are not just critical of the relocation scheme domestically and at the EU level. Both Slovakia and Hungary (with later support of Poland) in turn sued the Council of the EU for law infringement due to the “illegal” nature of the relocation scheme. That is why the EU is essentially facing two lawsuits on the same issue in parallel. During a hearing on 10 May 2017 at the Court of Justice of the European Union Hungary and Slovakia defended their refusal to accept refugees and migrants under the compulsory quota system against German and French arguments pertaining to European solidarity. The Polish envoy to the Court argued in addition that the accepting of the migrants poses a threat to national security. The Hungarian lawsuit comprises a ten point-list of legal arguments highlighting that the decision to assign quotas was illegal under the EU law or violated formal EU procedures. One of the arguments criticizes that the EU’s relocation scheme was defined under the concept of “provisional measures”, as the relocation should end on 17 September 2017. Still, the consequences of the measures are long-term ones, as the migrants and refugees are supposed to stay in the assigned countries for a longer period of time and de facto have to be “integrated” permanently since there is no working deportation mechanism in the EU to apply the law with those whose asylum request is refused. Thus, according to Poland and Hungary, the concept of “provisional measures” has been wrongly applied in this context. Another point is a formal one, as the European Council failed to consult the European Parliament, after substantial changes were made to the text of the proposal. Also, Hungary criticizes that the EU decision is contrary to the Geneva Convention, “since it deprives applicants of their right to remain in the territory of the Member State in which they made their application”. Moreover, Slovakia argued in a similar way stressing numerous breaches of procedural requirements by the European Council as well as the violation of the principle of representative democracy, institutional balance and sound administration.
Ireneusz Pawel Karolewski, Dr., is Chair of Political Science at the Willy Brandt Centre for European Studies of the University of Wroclaw, and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Potsdam. Author of “European Identity Revisited: New approaches and recent empirical evidence” (Routledge 2016). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Roland Benedikter (corresponding author), Dr. Dr. Dr., is Research Professor of Political Analysis in residence at the Willy Brandt Centre for European Studies of the University of Wroclaw, and Global Futures Scholar at Eurac Research Bolzano-Bozen, Autonomous Province of South Tyrol, Italy. Contact: email@example.com.
Part 2 is available here.