The Barbed Wire Between Hungary and European Democracy

The Barbed Wire Between Hungary and European Democracy

After it became known that the Romanian authorities are planning to accept 6,200 refugees between 2016 and 2017 at the behest of Brussels, the prime minister of neighbouring Hungary, Viktor Orban, issued an order to the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and its Defence Ministry to build a wall along the border to prevent illegal immigrants entering Hungary from Romania.

Hungary-Romania border is stretching for over 300 km. Hungary has already erected fences along its borders with Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia. It is expected that the wall along its border with Romania will be built in the same way: a four metre fence made up of three rows of barbed wire, with additional 3.5 metre barriers in between.

As yet, the reaction of the Romanian authorities to Viktor Orban’s initiative is unknown, but Bucharest has previously expressed its dissatisfaction more than once at its Hungarian neighbour’s reluctance to take in refugees.

When the stream of refugees moved from Turkey through Bulgaria, Serbia and Croatia, it avoided Romania completely, but the flow of migrants put pressure on Hungary’s western borders. Now, following Bucharest’s agreement to open its borders to the refugees (seemingly in return for Angela Merkel’s support of Romanian president and ethnic German Klaus Iohannis’s nomination during the 2014 presidential elections), the immigration wave is moving towards Hungary from the east.

Brussels regards Viktor Orban as an undesirable politician. He is calling for the European Union to provide Macedonia with additional financial support to strengthen the protection of its borders and build a new line of defence in northern Greece to hold back the waves of refugees. Orban is also capable of uniting the leaders of the Visegrad Four (Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland) in their unwillingness to agree to Brussels’ refugee quotas.

At the EU Summit held on 7-8 March, Turkey exposed even more differences of opinion between Budapest and Brussels. «Even one refugee is a lot for us. We will never agree to the relocation of refugees from Turkey to Hungary», Orban declared on the eve of the summit. Of all the leaders of the 28 EU member states, only one was so categorical – the prime minister of Hungary.

At the summit, as is well known, Ankara promised to take back all the refugees that had reached Europe but had not been granted legal status there, but demanded 6 billion euros from Brussels in return, as well as EU membership and the authority to transfer refugees directly to EU countries from Turkey. For every illegal immigrant accepted, Europe has promised to take in a refugee from Turkey.

After the deal was reached, Brussels promised to give Ankara 3 billion euros (instead of 6 billion) and fast-track Turkey’s application for EU membership. A second summit was held in Brussels on 17-18 March to finalise the EU’s cooperation scheme with Turkey regarding refugees. 

As you know, the Balkan route for refugees has now been closed, but why was this done? After all, the European Union has not refused to take in refugees, quite the contrary. So how will they make their way to Europe now? 

The route through Romania, and further on across Hungary’s eastern border, remains open. It is almost identical to the route on the map (with inscriptions in Arabic) discovered by the Die Zeit journalist Malte Henk in September 2015 at a refugee camp on the Greek island of Kos: Bulgaria – Romania – Ukraine’s Zakarpattia Oblast – Poland. The Zakarpattia Oblast borders Hungary, so it will be no surprise if Hungary soon starts demanding a fence along its border with Ukraine.

Hungary is planning to hold a referendum on the quota of 2,300 refugees that has been imposed on the country. The Hungarian prime minister is still referring to the refugees as «invaders» and vows that: «Gangsters will not prey on our wives and daughters». It is easy to predict the results of the Hungarian referendum, but harder to guess how relations between Brussels and Budapest will change afterwards and how many new supporters Viktor Orban will gain in Europe.