Fighting the wrong battle

Michal Simecka and Benjamin Tallis in Eurozine:

When the European Commission unveiled its plan for binding refugee resettlement quotas in April 2015, few had expected the governments of ex-communist Member States – which have no Middle Eastern or African immigrant communities to speak of – to warmly embrace the scheme. However, the intensity, hysteria and hypocrisy of the anti-migrant backlash shocked many, including some in the Visegrad countries themselves. Political cowardice and popular mistrust of supposedly liberal elites has allowed poisonous rhetoric directed at migrants to dominate, which risks political isolation and hinders common European action to address the crisis.

Encouragingly, counter-currents of resistance to the xenophobic rhetoric and callous political expediency are starting to emerge in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the Visegrad governments, meeting in Prague for an emergency summit on Friday, as it becomes increasingly clear that their approach is not only out of line with Europe's moral responsibilities, but also out of line with key European states such as Germany and France.

However, these belated, weak and ineffective responses are symptomatic of deeper social and political problems in the Visegrad countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary). The migration crisis has exposed another crisis – of liberal democracy in post-communist societies.

t is regrettable – indeed “scandalous”, as French foreign minister Laurent Fabius put it – that on one of the few issues on which the Visegrad countries have made their collective voice heard, it contradicts European values and the ethos of the European Union. Given the region's history, it is particularly concerning that Central Europeans are currently part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

With the Commission now pushing for an expanded relocation scheme – and Visegrad policymakers struggling to respond to the hundreds of refugees arriving via the western Balkan route – the stage is set for a deepening rupture along the East-West axis, pitting new member states against Berlin, Paris and Brussels.

More here.