The EU Commission has launched legal action against Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland which refused to take in refugees from Italy and Greece. The three EU states have acted «in breach of their legal obligations», the Commission said in a statement, adding that it had previously warned the countries to observe «their commitments to Greece, Italy and other member states». The three member states «have not yet relocated a single person», the statement says. The EU members under fire remain defiant.
In September 2015, the EU committed to relocating up to 160,000 refugees from the two countries within two years. However, not all EU states have found the measures acceptable, saying that the migrant crisis cannot be solved through obligatory quotas. Hungary and Slovakia are currently challenging the decision in the EU Court of Justice, and an advocate-general of the court will issue an opinion on July 26. Slovakia was able to avoid legal action against it by responding to EU warnings and opening its doors to a small group of migrants.
Only 20,869 of the 160,000 refugees have so far been relocated in the EU. More than 1.6 million asylum seekers have arrived in Europe since the start of the refugee crisis in 2014.
Now the Commission has launched infringement procedures against the three nations refusing to comply, before possibly referring them to the top European court. The legal battle could last many months or, even, years. As a result, the three states could be imposed financial penalties.
The very fact of launching legal procedures heats up tensions inside the EU at the time the bloc is going through a period of instability and uncertainty, with its unity tested by Brexit, weak economies and growing support for Eurosceptic and nationalist-minded parties.
Perhaps, it’s easier to pay fines than take in refugees and face grave security problems as a result. Going to the bottom of it – it’s not fines that really matter. All the countries opposing the EU migration policy are net beneficiaries of EU funding. A mood is developing among the older EU members to withhold cohesion funds from countries that oppose the relocation of refugees, although no legal basis for this actually exists. But if it starts, the EU will become a battlefield to make the vaunted unity a pipedream. If the events turn this way, the EU will become very much different from what it is today.
The Visegrád countries (V4) – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – have found common ground in recent years opposing the EU’s relocation policy and rejecting the idea of a two-speed Europe, but also in advocating the preservation of the Union’s cohesion policy. Indeed, why should East Europeans share the burden of the immigration crisis, especially in view that security policy is a national, not European, competence? These countries call for strengthening of the national states in EU decision-making process.
Poland and Hungary have joined together recently to oppose Brussels stance on human rights.
The V4 also oppose the two-speed» and «multi-speed» concepts supported by EU founders. They believe that the idea would turn them into «second class» members of the bloc.
The «East European revolt» is just part of a bigger process with deepening EU divisions and alliances being formed inside the alliance.
Prospect for the future? The situation inside the EU has bleak prospects for improvement. It calls for a closer look at the recent developments inside the EU. In February, the European Parliament backed three resolutions on strengthening centralization of the bloc. One of the resolutions proposes limiting or even totally abolishing the right of individual member states not to comply with collective decisions – just exactly what the East European members oppose so vehemently. The adoption of the resolutions may be the first step towards a fundamental change in the EU Treaty.
In February, leaders of the lower chambers of parliaments of Germany, Italy, France, and Luxembourg published a letter demanding a «Federal Union» be implemented without delay. It was published by Italian La Stampa on February 27. They call for «closer political integration — the Federal Union of States with broad powers. «Those who believe in European ideals, should be able to give them a new life instead of helplessly observing its slow sunset», the paper reads.
The idea to create a «common European defense» is a dubious endeavor; it presupposes additional financial burden at the time the US increases pressure to make Europeans raise NATO expenditure. Add to this the need to pay more for the migrants against the background of stagnating economy to see how unrealistic all these plans are. Europeans have already been made pay more for US liquefied gas for political reasons, while Russia can offer supplies at much lower prices.
Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister and European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, believes that the European Union must reform, or face the risk of collapse as a result of internal and external challenges. Noam Chomsky, a prominent US scholar, has predicted that the EU will disintegrate. The EU will collapse in 2017, predicts Mark Blyth, a lecturer in political economy at Brown University in the US, known for forecasts to come true.
The event marks a turning point in EU history. This is the first time EU members will face legal procedures for non-compliance with the rules established by Brussels. It shows how the migration crisis has divided the bloc. The process will not die away, migrants will continue their route north to the wealthier countries and the tensions inside the EU will grow. Rival blocs and perpetuate divisions will not disappear, turning the EU into a patchwork of blocs within blocs. The project of European integration does not look viable anymore. Legal actions cannot bridge the differences dividing its members.