More divisions and fewer decisions: just another day in Brussels?

Will the V4 countries find a common ground with the "Old Europe" regarding the refugee crisis? Read Martin Michelot's take on Central Europe's transformed image in Brussels.

As time passes and migratory pressures continue to increase any meeting of European decision-makers in Brussels is observed with increased scrutiny and expectations.

  • Unfortunately discussions in Brussels have not been able to deliver any concrete measure that could both help stave off and provide long-term solutions to the crisis.
  • Ministers of Interior, who gathered on Monday in Brussels failed to reach any sort of enforceable consensus.

As time passes and migratory pressures continue to increase, with another estimated 6000 asylum-seekers having made their way into Hungary yesterday, any meeting of European decision-makers in Brussels is observed with increased scrutiny and expectations. Unfortunately, as has often been the case since the onset of the crisis, discussions in Brussels have not been able to deliver any concrete measure that could both help stave off and provide long-term solutions to the crisis. Ministers of Interior, who gathered on Monday in Brussels, faced the daunting task of agreeing to the resettlement of 120,000 refugees, but failed to reach any sort of enforceable consensus. This failure will further enlarge the gap between countries such as France and Germany, who are in favor of a shared resettlement policy based on the quota system, and V4 and Baltic countries, who, emboldened by the lack of progress made by European policies, have become more confident in their position of refusing any type of obligatory mechanism.

The main theme of yesterday’s meeting was “solidarity”, a word that has taken on so many meanings in the past few weeks that it has lost all its essence. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière publicly mentioned that Europeans “must talk about pressure mechanisms” against countries “who more often than not receive a lot of structural funds”, while French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve exhorted reluctant countries “to live up to the situation”, highlighting that “every minute we waste discussing means more deaths”. Central European reactions to these emotional appeals by Western European leaders seem to have fallen on deaf ears, as exemplified by the media reports of an open clash between Bernard Cazeneuve and his Slovak counterpart Robert Kalinak.

It seems clear, at this point, that the argument of solidarity is not conducive to achieving progress in solving this crisis. This argument has harmed intra-European dialogue by pushing leaders to react on an emotional basis rather than a factual one. However, this appeal to emotions from Western European leaders also represents growing frustration with the way Central Europe exercises political leadership and the unwillingness of Central European leaders to address this issue in a truly European fashion, rather than the purely national perspectives to which they are currently limiting themselves. Mr. Cazeneuve and Mr. de Maizière are waiting for counter-proposals from countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic. They have become weary both of the fact that only the most willing Member States are bearing the costs and of the oft-repeated line of “finding long-term solutions to the crisis”, as opposed to addressing the immediate effects of the crisis.

Such tensions also serve to illustrate the shaky ground on which Visegrad and Baltic countries find themselves, being in the eye of the media for an unprecedented extent since their EU accession. The reaction of these countries is being closely watched since it represents the first real instance since their integration in which they are being asked to express solidarity with the EU without receiving anything in return. In a very simple way, expressing solidarity was a way to demonstrate that V4 countries are truly members of the EU, for good and worse. A different response would have served as a powerful symbol that the “V4 has arrived” and that they are members of the club; instead, the reluctant, if not outright negative, message that has been communicated to Brussels will unfortunately contribute to shaping the image of the region for the foreseeable future, and will go hand-in-hand with a diminished influence of the region in European debates. The V4, which was so quick at showcasing similar views in extraordinary sessions two weeks ago and last week, will now have to encounter an altered view of the region in Brussels. The Member States cannot afford for the gap, which was created during the crisis, to be transferred over to other issues. Central European politicians may sooner rather than later realize the lasting consequences of their adamant refusal to participate in the broader collective effort to treat human lives as what they are: a collection of women, men, and children fleeing extreme poverty and persecution in their countries.

Central European politicians are running out of time to correct course and open a constructive dialogue with their counterparts in Brussels. Donald Tusk has said that he will call for an extraordinary meeting of European heads of state if the current discussions do not lead to any improvements; the discussions on Monday September 14 certainly did not lead to any such decision, as the Interior Ministers refused to even deliberate on an obligatory resettlement policy. The question now is: after having had a lot of “last chance Summits” for the Greek crisis, how many of those will need to happen before a solution to the refugee crisis can be conceived? This time, the onus falls on Central Europe to act responsibly and to showcase that they have fully signed on to the values that unite Europeans.

 

This article was originally published in Czech language on our blog at iHNed.cz.

#blog #Visegrádská čtyřka #V4 #uprchlická krize #refugee crisis

Martin Michelot
Deputy Director

Expertise: NATO and transatlantic security, European foreign policy and defense, French politics, elections and society, Visegrad Four and Central Europe, EU institutional issues

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