The European Court of Justice has obliged Hungary and Slovakia to receive refugees. Unwillingness of these states as well as Poland and Czech Republic to receive refugees is understandable. However, Visegrad Group countries should blame only themselves for the current state of affairs. They will hardly manage to refuse from refugees without prejudice to themselves.
The EU and Visegrad Group have had a dispute over refugee quotas for already two years. In August of 2015, a crowd of 200,000 refugees from Middle East and Africa reached Hungary literally paralyzing the life in the country. Images of Budapest Eastern Station filled with immigrants went viral. Local police and special services not used to such inflow of people could hardly manage the situation. Afterwards, the crowd of immigrants headed for Austria and Germany. Prime Minister Viktor Orban tackled immigration problem by launching construction of anti-migrant wall. He said Muslims couldn’t integrate into his country due to too different mentality. His counterparts in Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic Beata Szydło, Robert Fico and Bohuslav Sobotka came out with similar statements. Due to geographic location, their countries appeared to be aside of the main flow of migrants.
However, EU had to do something with that many-thousand-strong crowd of refugees. Eventually, on September 22, 2015, the presidents and prime ministers decided to place migrants in all countries depending on the number of population and incomes of the host country. As a result, Slovakia (with a population of 5 million people) was to receive 902 people, Hungary (10 million population) – 1294 people, Czech Republic (10 million population) – 2,691 people. Poland with its 38 million population had to give shelter to 6,182 forced migrants.
However, on the same day, it turned out that the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary refuse to receive anyone. Poland joined them after a while, when the Law and Justice Party came to power there. Brussels did insist that all the countries must accept their refugee quotas; otherwise, aid to all the four countries of the Visegrad Group will be halted.
Despite rhetoric from Germany and European Commission, the Visegrad Four openly boycotted requirements of European officials, Hungary and Poland did not receive a single migrant, Czech Republic received only 12 people. Slovakia proved more “hospitable” and received 16 refugees. Besides, the governments of Hungary and Slovakia appealed to EU Court with migration complaints and asked to overturn its decision obliging them to accept refugee quotas.
The European Union’s top court has dismissed complaints by Slovakia and Hungary about EU migration policy. EU institutions were on firm legal ground when they adopted measures to respond to “an emergency situation characterized by a sudden inflow of displaced persons”, the court said. The measures were legally taken by the EU Council and did not require ratification by individual governments, its news release said. "Its adoption was not subject to the requirements relating to the participation of national Parliaments and to the public nature of the deliberations and vote in the Council."
Only Poland openly supported Slovakia and Hungary (even Czechs abstained). Not only Brussels bureaucrats, but also EU heavyweights Germany, France and Italy turned against them. So did Sweden, Belgium, Greece and Luxembourg. Almost all these countries are under heavy load due to inflow of migrants and it is normal that they try to make Hungary and Slovakia share that load with them. Welcoming the court verdict, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland that they could face legal action if they don’t live up to their refugee obligations “in coming weeks.”
The Visegrad Group countries were naturally displeased with the Court ruling. Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said: “This absolutely does not change the position of the Polish government with respect to migration policy.” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said: “The decision puts at risk the security of all of Europe and the future of all of Europe as well.”
Referring to the European Commission’s plan to bring a case before the Court of Justice if a country chooses not to take in any migrants, Polish Minister Witold Waszczykowski stressed that Poland will defend itself. “Poland's security is more important than imprudent decisions by European institutions,” Waszczykowski told Polish Radio, though he did not specify how his country is going to defend itself. Prime Minister Szydło hinted that her country was not going to give shelter to anyone. Although Czech officials refrained from any comments, it is evident that Prague too is displeased with the Court ruling.
Unwillingness of Visegrad Group countries to receive asylum seekers is understandable. For Germany and Sweden (less for Austria and the Netherlands) that had received the main inflow of refugees have already faced a rise in crime rate, heavy diseases, and high living costs for newcomers. Earlier, the Calais Jungle, the refugee and migrant encampment near Calais, France, was overfilled and failed to ensure safety and security of migrants. If the richest and powerful states fail, how could weaker and poorer ones do?
In fact, only Czech Republic out of the four Visegrad Group countries is more or less able to ensure proper, European living standards for its citizens. The country does not see large-scale migrations unlike many others. Quite the contrary, hundreds of Ukrainians and Slovaks leave for the Czech Republic for earning. However, the country is not as rich as its neighbors Germany and Austria, where real (price-adjusted) incomes of the citizens are 1.5-fold higher.
Let alone Poland and Slovakia from which up to five million and up to 500,000 people left for earnings, respectively. Hungarians migrate less due to special attachment to their home country and insufficient knowledge of foreign languages. However, Hungary is the poorest country in Visegrad Group. These countries fail to ensure proper life for their own citizen. Where would they find money to receive forced migrants?
Nevertheless, there are also some non-financial obstacles to receiving migrants. The post-Socialist states are building strictly national states and are not happy to see too many foreigners. The constitutions of these states even have relevant clauses. All these states gained or restored independence less than a century ago. Peaceful national home country is the key value for them. They have not “matured” for multiculturalism yet.
They have no idea of what it is like to have colonies and feel guilt towards residents of Asia and Africa. Migrants are perceived as strangers that may ruin their peaceful home. In addition, Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks have never dealt with such a big number of non-Christians. As to Hungarians, they lived under rule of the Ottoman Empire for 150 years and have quite negative feelings towards Muslims.
All these are sensible arguments, but other questions arise too. What did Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava expect when they launched EU accession talks at the turn of the century? By the way, the then Hungarian PM was Viktor Orban and the Czech Government was headed by current president Milos Zeman. Didn’t they see that Berlin, Paris, Stockholm, Amsterdam had big immigrant ghettos? Actually, they did not care about that.
In 2003, all the four countries signed EU Treaty of Accession wherein it was clearly stated that the new member-countries are acceding the decisions and agreements adopted by representatives of the member-countries’ governments. The EU member-countries have different power and weight. For instance, Germany and France most then others influence EU. Netherlands and Sweden have as much power as Poland, since those countries are much richer. Actually, the Visegrad Four voluntarily agreed to obey common rules.
Consequently, they have to implement the EU Court ruling whether they like it or not. Otherwise, their financing will be cut. Poland receives more financing than the other three countries. Hungary and Slovakia pay EU more than receive and only Czech Republic pays nearly as much as receives.
These countries have faced a very hard choice. If they are ready to quit EU not to receive refugees, it will affect their living standards immediately. In they agree to receive migrants, they will have to reorganize many agencies. Police and special services will have to work in emergency regime. Their neighbor Austria appears to have coped with that task, though not without expenses.
Visegrad Group should not cherish illusions with EU and Germany. They will not go on concessions, though migrant crisis in Europe has showed that it is harder and harder for EU to influence its member-states. It appears that one can only dream of once united Europe.
Vadim Trukhachev, Ph.D. (History)