In For a Penny (Solidarity) But Not For the Pound (Relocation)

Why countries from the Visegrad Group, with population amounting to 64 mln people, for almost two years now have been refusing to take in 11 thousands asylum seekers.

A common attitude of the V4 countries towards the migration crisis is one of the policies concerning the EU that binds them the most. During the vote on 22th of September 2015 24 countries voted in support of the European Council’s declaration - among them Poland, then with Ewa Kopacz as prime minister. The remaining Visegrad countries - Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - were against the declaration. The motion was accepted by a qualified majority, as is the case with most EU laws - only those regarding security and defense require unanimity. In 2016, following a change of government, Poland joined the rest of the V4 in opposing relocation. 

The governments have support in their parliaments. In Slovakia, Hungary and Poland resolutions denouncing the relocation mechanism were accepted. Czech MPs voiced their opposition to relocation during a parliamentary debate but didn’t introduce any resolution. The MEPs are against the relocation as well. During the last vote concerning this subject, which took place on the 18th of May 2017, 51 out of 106 V4 MEPs voted against the resolution of the EP urging member states to accept the quotas of refugees. 17 MEPs abstained, while 14 voted for the resolution (11 were absent and 13 did not cast their votes). 

There were 7 debates in the European Parliament regarding the refugee crisis and the mechanism of relocation proposed as a remedy. 32 out of 106 MEPs from V4 countries took part in the discussions: 17 from Poland, 10 from Hungary, 4 from the Czech Republic and one from Slovakia. 

Members of conservative and right-wing political groups, such as ECR and the eurosceptic ENF or EFDD, unambiguously oppose the idea of relocation. As to the socialists, they define themselves as supporters of European solidarity and advocate the creation of a common migration policy, they do not, however, always clearly voice their opinions about relocation. The majority of EPP politicians oppose mandatory quotas but they are not strongly against taking in refugees as such. No MEP from the liberal ALDE (which comprises only Czech MEPs from the V4 countries) has taken part in the debate. 

The main arguments of V4 politicians from the debate against relocation

Mandatory relocations are a violation of member states’ sovereignty. The governments of the V4 countries condemn the mandatory character of relocation which is seen as forced on the member states from above - an argument that is also present with the MEPs. The Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico vehemently opposes relocation.  He stresses the sovereignty of Slovakia and its freedom to make its own choices regarding matters of national security. 

The Hungarian government has even set up a website for publishing anti-immigrant and anti-relocation slogans.

The Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, stated that the Czech Republic is ready to take in ca. 1500 refugees - as is set out in the quotas - but not as part of the mandatory mechanism of relocation, which restricts the freedom of the member states. 

In her speech in May 2017 the Polish prime minister Beata Szydło expressed similar sentiments: “Right now there is no possibility of taking in refugees in Poland and we will certainly not comply with mandatory quotas forced on Poland and other member states. 

EU decisions should respect the voice of the minority. Slovakia and the Czech Republic criticize the way the decision about relocations was made - without unanimity. The Czech MEP Michaela Šojdrová has raised this issue twice- in April 2016 and again a year later. She argues that the question of taking in refugees is a question of a given member state’s security, and as such requires the vote to be unanimous. 

Refugees and immigrants pose a threat to citizens

For Polish MEPs the main argument is the safety of Polish citizens. In Spring of 2016 the government broadened the competences of the Office for Foreigners, responsible for asylum procedures. It will be possible to turn back a relocated person if information about them is not verified by the OFF. In spite of this, according to Beata Szydło, Poland still couldn’t be sure whether the relocated immigrants pose a threat.  

Every country has the right to defend its borders. Hungarian MEPs have also raised the issue of mass migration being a threat to safety. It is the Hungarian border which was among the places most affected by the migration crisis in 2015. By September of 2015 170 thousand people sought asylum in Hungary. The right to defend the country’s borders was particularly important for Hungarian politicians. This issue was raised in plenary by Zoltan Balczo, Andras Gyürk and Krisztina Morvai.

The relocation mechanism is pointless, as refugees will not remain in poorer EU countries anyway. This argument, raised by the V4 politicians, stems from data - according to the OFF in Poland in 2016 9503 out of 11997 asylum cases were dropped - many due to the asylum seeker disappearing or going to another country. Data from the Czech Ministry of Internal Affairs shows that in the second half of 2016 ?  of asylum cases in the Czech Republic was dropped. 

Forcing relocations will lead to new „exits”. Czech MEPs from eurosceptic groups use the threat of leaving the EU as a final argument against mandatory quotas. The Czech government, however, does not support such a solutio. 

If not relocation, then what?

There are far fewer ideas for solutions other than relocation than there are arguments against it.

The EU should increase border protection. Instead of relocation V4 politicians from across the political spectrum advocate strengthening EU borders. 11 MEPs put this proposal forward - 5 Hungarians, 4 Poles and 2 Czechs. Among the Polish MEPs Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg (ind., S&D) and Barbara Kudrycka (PO, EPP) stressed this issue twice. 

The EU should develop a common migration policy. Rarely do the MEPs take up the issue of integration of the refugees and immigrants who are already in Europe. According to Danuta Jazłowiecka (PO, EPP): “It is crucial to implement additional projects with the aim of providing peace and security in Europe, and in the future to properly integrate newcomers in our society or for them to return to their country of origin. 

The Polish MEP Barbara Kudrycka (PO, EPP) as part of the common migration policy proposed to take into account, among other things, the situation on the labour market in the given member state. This would help to integrate the relocated refugees into the society. It was an isolated voice in the debate. 

Relocations do not work. As only 11% of proposed refugees have been relocated up till now it could be argued that the relocation system proved to be futile. 

Declarative solidarity

Hungarian MEPs from parties in opposition to Fidesz in their statements underlined the duty of European solidarity, However the solidarity of Peter Niedermüller (DK, S&D) and Csaba Molnar (DK, S&D) was only declarative - they didn’t take part in the vote of 18th of May on the EP resolution calling on the member states to take in refugees. But Tibor Szanyi (MSZP,S&D) did - he voted in favour of the resolution, after having criticised his government at the beginning of the refugee crisis for being against the communal approach to the crisis.

Slovak politicians guard themselves by making conditions - they will uphold solidarity if it doesn’t put the safety of their citizens in jeopardy. Such is the point of view of the prime minister Robert Fico. 

Polish MEPs Róża Thun (PO, EPP) and Jarosław Kalinowski (PSL, EPP) cite it being a Christian duty as a reason for helping refugees. However, while Thun supports the idea of relocation, Kalinowski doesn’t view it as the best way of help.  

The tardiness of members states, not only those from the Visegrad Group, in implementing relocation raises the question to what extent is the debate about this tool still reasonable. Perhaps EU politicians should invest their time and energy in working out a new way of coping with the problem of migration. 

While the V4 politicians stress the importance of solidarity and behaving according to Christian values, there are no concrete proposals for solving the problem of refugees who are already in Europe. Values and solidarity on their own won’t form a detailed, common political agenda which could provide a counterpoint for the V4 governments who oppose common asylum policy.

This text was created within the joint project of four organizations: Czech, Slovakian, Hungarian and Polish The project “Closer to V4 Policy” is funded by the Visegrad Fund. Collaboration in collecting and compiling the data: Jaroslav Bilek, Barbora Belovicka, Emese Keyha, Magdalena Wnuk

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