Matus Misik: The flawed logic of Central European solidarity

The current refugee crisis indicates that Visegrád countries are only interested in such form of solidarity that is beneficial for them and refuse any shared responsibility for issues that are challenging for the rest of EU member states,

At least since 2009 Central European (CE) countries have been talking a lot about solidarity within the European Union. Caused by a dispute between Russia and Ukraine over the price, the gas crisis that left this part of Europe without the main source of natural gas for several days served as a trigger for solidarity calls at the EU level. Closer cooperation with the western part of the Union was supposed to improve energy security of the eastern part of the community by enabling alternatives sources of energy. In 2009, several CE countries proposed the idea of energy solidarity, while Poland promoted it even sooner – after the smaller-scale gas crisis of 2006. Ultimately, not only was energy solidarity included in the Lisbon Treaty, but the notion also had practical implications as many new, EU-funded diversification projects key for the CE region were launched. Solidarity thus played a crucial part in improving energy security of the Central European countries, and their representatives repeatedly stressed its importance for the functioning of the European Union.

However, with the beginning of the refugee crisis, the rhetoric about solidarity has rapidly changed, especially within the Visegrád Group (V4) states (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia). The countries have been very vocal about their unwillingness to help other member states of the European community tackle the refugee crisis, and are blaming them for the creation of the current crisis. Many representatives of the V4 states claim that the “Western” countries caused the refugee crisis through their involvement in the Syrian war and that it is therefore their duty to deal with the consequences of their actions (including the refugee crisis). Since the Visegrád countries are not directly involved in the Syrian conflict, they are (by that rationale) not obliged to contribute to the solution of the crisis. The CE countries therefore claim that solidarity does not apply in this particular case and even actively fight attempts to impose measures aimed at safeguarding solidarity among EU member states, such as the refugee quota system.

The quota system is a reaction of the EU to the challenges faced by those member states that are the primary destination of the refugees (e.g. Germany, Sweden, Greece and Italy). In order to spread the influx of refugees more evenly, in September 2015 the member states agreed that each EU country will be assigned a specific number of applicants for refugee status. Thanks to this strategy, a total of 120 000 people are supposed to be distributed across Europe in the near future. However, not all member states approved of this idea – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia voted against the proposal. Slovakia is currently even preparing a lawsuit over the quotas, which is to be filed with the European Court of Justice responsible for solving disputes concerning the interpretation and application of EU law. Although Poland voted for the quota system in September and was thus an exception among the Visegrád countries, it changed its position following the parliamentary election in October 2015, which resulted in a political shift and creation of a new conservative government. Now, all four Visegrád states oppose the idea of redistributing refugees from the most affected EU countries.

This basically means that the V4 countries refuse to show solidarity with other EU members. The situation is even worse given the fact that the V4 states were asked to take only a few thousand applicants for refugee status (only Poland was asked to take a higher number – however, less than ten thousand) and the majority of the responsibility still remains with the “main” EU members like Germany or France.

The current position of the V4 countries (but also many other CE states), not only towards the quota system, but also towards the refugee crisis in general, illustrates their flawed logic when it comes to solidarity. On the one hand, these countries are quite vocally arguing in favour of solidarity whenever their interests (for example, energy security) are at stake, but on the other hand they oppose the very same solidarity when it is their turn to contribute to the common solution of a problem at hand. Therefore, they should not be very surprised that other member states are considering more extreme actions, such as creating of a “mini-Schengen” and reintroducing border controls between the majority of the EU member states.

Dr. Matúš Mišík is a post-doctoral fellow at the U of A’s European Union Centre of Excellence