Poland and Hungary at Odds with Brussels: Year of Great Confrontation?

The influx of refugees and migrants to Europe has led to serious internal social and political consequences in the European Union, including a crisis of solidarity between the member states.

New Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a press conference during the visit to Budapest immediately after his appointment that he firmly rejects attempts of the European Commission to impose mandatory quotas on asylum seekers. Morawiecki called this approach an "the encroachment on the sovereignty of decisions of the EU countries," forgetting that the decision on quotas was made by the member states themselves at the meeting of the EU Council in September 2015. Poland, unlike other Visegrád Group members, voted for the quotas, and only later changed its position, refusing to comply with the decision taken with its own support.

Therefore, the response of the group of southern countries - Italy, Greece, Spain and other members of the “Club Med” - to the behavior of the Central European countries looks quite reasonable. They once again demonstrated at their summit in January 2018 that they are worried about the formation of "parallel communities ".

Jean-Claude Juncker, Chairman of the Commission, is puzzled why the specific issue of the EU migration policy on quotas causes so many emotions and distracts from problems that are much more important. However, the lack of consensus in the EU on this particular "private issue" blocks the prolonged reform of the Dublin Regulation, which is designed to change the procedure of asylum granting by redistribution of potential refugees among the EU countries in the event of a large-scale influx.

In the new package of proposals, submitted in late September 2017, the Commission decided to shift the focus from mandatory quotas for the refugees reception from Italy and Greece on the resettlement of asylum seekers from North Africa and the Horn of Africa on a voluntary basis and with financial encouragement from countries that are ready to accept them. The new program of the Commission was approved by the majority of the member states with predictable resistance of the Visegrád Group countries, which once again stated that they cannot integrate Muslims migrants. The shift in preferences in favor of voluntary resettlement does not mean at the same time that the Commission abandoned the idea to make the EU countries fulfil their obligations to resettle refugees in accordance with quotas. Confrontation with the Visegrád Group continues, although sharp actions on the part of the Commission are unlikely: it will rather seek a compromise on migration issues.

On the eve of the presidential elections in Hungary in April 2018, Viktor Orban, pretending to be independent in determining his own migration policy, is much more resolute than Juncker, who rejects the idea to punish Hungary and Poland by cutting payments from the EU structural funds.

At the same time, the Visegrád Group claims a "new vision" of the migration problem in the EU, namely, its "outsourcing". This means the transfer of migrants and refugees to countries outside Europe, to the countries of exodus. This approach does not cause objections by the rest of the EU countries, and not Hungary and Poland came up with this plan, they only repeat the Commission's proposals, voiced in the "European migration agenda" as early as in 2015, and in previous pre-crisis programs - "fighting the root causes of emigration." Initiators of close cooperation with African states were not the Visegrádians, but Italy, France and Germany.

With the support of the Austrian government that came to power in October 2017, Poland and Hungary resolutely declared that "the EU's migration policy has failed" and insist on independent solutions of migration problems, in fact, on re-nationalization of migration policies. However, the EU's general policy on migration began to shape as an inevitable response to the abolition of the internal borders between the EU countries in the Schengen area. The Visegrádians waited too long for their accession to the Schengen zone, so they will be the last to recognize the need for complete restoration of border controls, which will be a direct consequence of the return to the national competence over the migration policy.

The confrontation of Poland and Hungary with Brussels on migration issues is only a local, although very important issue of the EU functioning. The EU also prosecutes Hungary for its policy towards universities and civil society organizations, which receive funding from foreign organizations. As for Poland, in December 2017 the Commission launched an unprecedented disciplinary procedure. According to Brussels, with its judicial reform Poland threatens the rule of law in the EU. A long and complicated negotiation procedure, including unanimity in the Council, is required to deprive Poland of the right to vote in the EU Council. This is hardly possible if Hungary, as Poland hopes, will use the right of veto. While Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel strongly support the Commission in its actions against Poland, Bulgaria, which took the presidency of the EU Council in 2018, demonstrates extreme caution on the issue of sanctions, rightly stating that such a decision threatens the European Union with "many sleepless nights".

Moreover, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, former Minister of Finance, announced the intention of the Central European countries to act as a united front in future negotiations on the EU budget for the next seven-year period, which starts in 2021. Prime Ministers of Poland and Hungary are confident that they will be able to win in a dispute with Brussels, and Viktor Orban predicts a "year of great confrontation" with the EU. In essence, Brussels does not have strong leverage to bring Poland and Hungary sharply and decisively to reason.

It is unlikely that the Commission and the "old" EU countries would foresee such a confrontation when they accepted the Central European states that had returned to Europe with enthusiasm. Now they have to look for a compromise between all countries about the future of the European Union.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.