The state of votes
Predicting the predictable,or why the V4 were right about the quota system
Weakness in unity or the Pyrrhic victory of the V4
Marcin Furdyna | 2017. November 21. 19:10
It turned out that the Visegrad countries were right about the quota system implemented during the migration crisis. Nowadays, the European Commission is taking a stance that had been adopted by the V4 from the very beginning.
The Visegrad Group (V4) has had its ups and downs over the past two and a half decades. After 2004, most pundits had thought that the group was rather dead in the water. Despite this, the V4 has been among the top priorities of the Polish government’s foreign policy agenda. For example, when Grzegorz Schetyna, current leader of the Civic Platform had been appointed as Foreign Minister, he said he would strive for reviving and redefining the group. Yet, just a few months later, he backed the idea of the European Commission of relocating migrants from the Middle East and North African countries that had reached Italy and Greece, according to a quota system. This was in complete opposition with the aspirations of the other V4 states, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. One could say it wasn’t a perfect example of how foreign policy should be made.
Speaking of bad policy decisions, the one on the quotas shouldn’t have been made by Ewa Kopacz’s government at all. There is a common term in Anglo-Saxon countries called “lame duck”. This describes an outgoing politician who makes decisions he would not make at the beginning or in the middle of his term. Kopacz decided to accept the quotas just before the next parliamentary elections, having no guarantee that her party would run the country for another four years. If the government had been responsible, it would not have bound its successor with such a significant obligation.
As we know, after the elections it was the Law and Justice party that single-handedly formed a new government. And they successfully brought the Visegrad Four back to life. The common denominator of the V4 was the migration crisis, as these states were against the idea of obligatory migrant quotas and were attempting to find another solution, focusing on the protection of the EU’s external borders and helping people on the ground.
There is no doubt that every member state of the EU benefits of this Union to a great extent. That is not to say though that these benefits don’t come at a certain expense. Although solidarity is among the most important EU principles, the term seems to be a myth nowadays. You need to keep in mind; within the EU many particular interests coexist that sometimes have nothing to do with real solidarity. One visible example of that is Germany’s attempt to construct the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is at odds with the stance of Central and Eastern European countries, like Poland or the Baltic states. At the same time, Warsaw and its southern neighbours have been criticized for their lack of solidarity with other European states regarding the migration crisis, or because of their negative approach to accept obligatory migrant quotas, but this is simply not true. As a matter of fact, the V4 opposed a particular solution of the crisis, not EU solidarity per se. They attempted to figure out how to tackle the problem in the long run, claiming that the quotas would be an ineffective way to solve the crisis in the first place.
Having made their point clear, the V4 countries put the European Commission under pressure, trying to persuade it to change its mind. As time went by, it turned out that the quota system was indeed ineffective and, actually, impossible to implement. Now, the EU is slowly backing down from the decision made in 2015, as a huge majority of member states, except for Malta, had not met their obligations. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, recently confessed that he didn’t see any future in it, saying that it was the security of the EU’s external borders that had become the most important issue. In his speech in front of the European Parliament in September this year, Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission said, “People who have no right to stay in Europe must be returned to their countries of origin.” After that, Jacopo Barigazzi from “Politico” wrote that the European Commission’s President implicitly admitted that it was Viktor Orbán (that is, the V4) who had been right about the migration crisis and opposing the quota system. The EU is changing its rhetoric and approach in the Visegrad Four’s favour. If that is not a success, what is?
Magdalena Smenda | 2017. November 21. 19:10
The common position of the V4 group on the quotas brings the 4 members closer together. However, this bloc stands in opposition to the other members of the EU and can create more problems with its disruptive behaviour than help solve the crisis.
Poland hosted the V4 presidency for a year, a period that ended on 30th of June 2017. A few days after that they held a meeting in Warsaw which summed up a year of cooperation. The main subject of the meeting, which had been attended among others, by various Ministers of Home Affairs, were the European Commission’s sanctions against those member states which did not take refugees. Mariusz Błaszczak, the Polish minister of Home Affairs, claimed that the actions taken by the Commission were unfounded. His claims represented all V4 countries’ position. At the same time, he pointed out that it should be up to the European Council, formed by the heads of states of EU members, to relocate the refugees, and not to the Council, which consists of specialized ministers. As Błaszczak stated, "security policy should be state-shaped rather than created in the EU.”
The V4 countries are against taking in amounts of refugees allocated to them by the EU and they oppose the EU’s practise of sanctioning these countries if they do not comply. Hungary and the Czech Republic both voted against the mechanism of relocating the refugees within the EU and filed a complaint with the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Poland joined the complaint after the parliamentary elections. Previously, the cabinet of PM Kopacz had agreed to take a set number of refugees. The CJEU has since dismissed these complaints in a decision in September 2017.
The common position of the V4 group on the quotas brings the 4 members closer together. However, this bloc stands in opposition to the other members of the EU. Moreover, the governments of the V4 do not even pretend to look for political allies, creating an impression that this 'exclusive' group is sufficient.
Creating alliances or groups of interests inside the EU is a common practice, which usually supplements thoroughly reflected national foreign policy. Poland for example gains with a strong V4, pushing through its own agenda, as well as protecting the interests of its allies. What is worrying is that these Central European countries are now viewed as an opposition to all other member states. Most importantly, the V4 opposition is not what we can call a constructive opposition. Therefore the paradox is that the Visegrad group divides rather than unites countries.
Mariusz Błaszczak is not at fault when he says that security policy is a state matter, not an EU matter. However, he forgets that migration policy is a subject that member states have to work out solutions for together. We need to analyse what impact the refugee crisis has on the security of states and if it can count as security policy sensu stricto. Following this path of the current Polish government, we can also claim that food security, energy security and economic security can be interpreted in the same way. Therefore we come to the conclusion that, technically, nothing is an EU competence and that everything is a matter at the state level. However, the transfer of sovereignty is a fact and most importantly, was a voluntary decision in this case. Complaining about the dictatorship of Brussels is therefore a complete exaggeration.
Whether or not to take in refugees or economic migrants, as well as other legal questions regarding migration are significant problems. In a situation like this it is better to introduce a mechanism capable of solving various crises. We may have different opinions regarding current EU politics; however the Visegrad Group creates a problematic axis in this situation. Their current position of simply opposing the EU cannot be considered a success by any means. A strong signal of the V4 would be to present a common, real and constructive solution, which at the same time takes into consideration its own regional interests as well. If such solution exists, they are surely not perceived as the main goal by the V4. However, thinking in win-win categories is an absolute necessity if you want to make cooperation between EU actors an effective process. The tool which is the Visegrad Group, should be used in a positive sense, to solve problems of integration into an even larger structure at the EU level. Considering the fact that all V4 countries joined the EU at the same time, it would be a start for the V4 to think more objectively about the interests of its EU partners. This way their integration could be completed a lot faster.
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