In September 2015, the European Union introduced a migrant quota plan as a last-minute measure to relocate the roughly 200,000 refugees making their way to the continent. Later, the European Commission admitted that the plan was only intended to take some of the weight off the shoulders of countries like Greece and Italy, and that the allocation of refugees had been made according to each destination country's GDP, population and governments' pledges.
Many lauded the decision as a bold first step to resolving the continent's greatest humanitarian crises since WWII, but no further measures were ever put in place. Indeed, the resistance posed by some E.U. member-states opposed to the plan – most notably Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic – made greater international headlines than the lack of further relief efforts.
Now, after two years of active resistance against the quotas, the EC has finally decided to make good on its threats by legally prosecuting the Polish, Hungarian and Czech governments through the European Court of Justice. In response to the announcement, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski said defiantly, “Poland is ready to defend its position in the Court... No one will lift the duty of providing public safety from the Polish government.”
In a public address following the Commission's announcement, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto stated with even greater clarity: “The [Hungarian] government rejects illegal immigration and mandatory settlement quotas, and will continue to fight for the interests and security of the Hungarian people... [The E.U.] is facing the most serious threat of terrorism ever," he went on, and "anybody who thinks that a short-term crisis is over, the issue of migration can sort of fade into the background, they are mistaken."
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic seems far more willing to negotiate a solution with the Commission, with its newly appointed Prime Minister Andrej Babis stating that his administration would consider settling the issue out of court. Ironically, of the three countries currently being prosecuted by the E.U., the Czech Republic had initially attempted to compromise by accepting a total of 12 refugees within its borders, out of the originally proposed 3,000.
A New Kind of Bloc
Hungary's hardline anti-immigration policy, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban's sweeping accusations both against the European Union and the waves of refugees seeking safety in his country, may sound like ludicrous soundbites. But they betray an identity crisis that is affecting the entirety of Eastern Europe.
During a recent interview with the German newspaper Bild, Orban claimed that Syrian refugees fleeing a bloody civil war amount to "Muslim invaders," and that "a large number of Muslims inevitably leads to parallel societies, because Christian and Muslim societies will never unite."
Orban's previous attempt, with the help of the Slovakian government, to dispute the immigration quota ruling, as well as his repeated statements about the failure of multiculturalism, reveal a clear and tangible divide over the identity – and very purpose – of the European Union.
Examining these efforts alongside the Polish Law and Justice Party's (PiS) openly antagonistic stance againstthe E.U. quota rulings, Polish writer Ziemowit Szczerek said that the xenophobic trend now applies across the whole Eastern bloc, where "[the people seem themselves]... as slightly poor, slightly backward and not as efficient."
The relationship between the E.U. and its eastern members appears to be growing so antagonistic, in fact, that Poland is now threatening to leave the European Union in a final, overly dramatic gesture. Already, the European Commission has triggered Article 7 of the Union Treaty, setting up the steps for what could become a "Polexit".
For the moment it seems that Poland, like the Czech Republic, is willing to re-open negotiations with Brussels. But whether this is merely a ploy for time or an actual restructuring of policy in Warsaw remains to be seen. Despite the fact that all three Eastern European countries are experiencing an unprecedented economic boom – the Czech Republic is enjoying a 3 percent unemployment rate, while the average Polish worker earns three times what s/he did 30 years ago — many see them as still trapped by a limited worldview in which their society continues to judge itself by the standards of its more industrialized, Western neighbors.
At first glance, it may seem these countries are treating their newfound prosperity as a fluke, resorting to nationalism in a clumsy effort to preserve it. But a careful look at the larger picture would reveal that this is the end result of a much grander, Union-wide failing...
The Unwanted Thousands
According to the official Relocation Report, published in November 2017 by the European Commission, almost every E.U. member-state failed to come anywhere near its legally mandated refugee quota. With the exception of Switzerland – which accepted roughly 900 refugees despite not facing any legal commitment – countries like Ireland, Bulgaria and Estonia accepted no refugees whatsoever.
Meanwhile, Austria, Belgium and Sweden – the latter being among the most outspoken countries with regard to accepting immigrants – barely took in more than 1,500 people from a total legal requirement of 10,000.
By all accounts, the results show a [greater lack of willingness to reach a resolution to a crisis that isn't any closer to resolving itself. With the facts in hand, it's hard to deny that since 2015, the European Union has failed in its bid to aid a wave of many tens thousands of people in need.
Make no mistake: The failure isn't because of a lack of resources or a few bad apples within the E.U., but the result of an entire continent choosing to turn a blind eye to those knocking at its door in search of a better life. With a new influx of refugees already under way into the E.U., it appears that even if the European Court of Justice twists the offending countries' arms into compliance with its policy, it will only result in a lot of pointless fanfare and little to no action.