The European Union announced this week that it would begin proceedings to punish Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic for their refusal to accept refugees and migrants under a 2015 scheme the E.U. commission created. The mission’s aim was to relieve Greece and Italy of the burden from migrant waves arriving from the Middle East and Africa, largely facilitated by European rescues of migrants in the Mediterranean.
The conflict between the EU and these three nations of the Visegrád Group is not just about the authority the EU can arrogate to itself when facing an emergency (one largely of its own making), but about the character of European government and society in the future. It is hard not to conclude that the dissenting countries are correct to dissent. Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia had voted against the 2015 agreement. Poland’s government had supported it then, but a subsequent election saw a new party come into power that rejected the scheme.
There is no doubt that Italy and Greece are under strain. This week the mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, pleaded with the Italian government to stop the inflow of people to her city. Raggi is a member of the Five Star Movement a Euroskeptic and anti-mass-migration association. Her election was a distress signal in itself, sent by the electorate. And Raggi has sent another such signal to Italy’s government, saying that it is “impossible, as well as risky to think up further accommodation structures.”
But the EU’s plan to impose sanctions on Eastern Europe has been met by unusually frank talk from dissenters there. Mariusz Błaszczak, the interior minister of Poland, said in an interview that taking in migrants would be worse than facing EU sanctions. “The security of Poland and the Poles is at risk” by taking in migrants, he said, “We mustn’t forget the terror attacks that have taken place in Western Europe, and how — in the bigger EU countries — these are unfortunately now a fact of life.”
The Polish government certainly has the wind of democratic support at its back. The truth is that the majority in nearly every European country says that migration from Muslim countries into Europe should be slowed down or stopped entirely. In Poland, less than 10 percent of respondents disagree with the statement that “all immigration from majority Muslim nations should be stopped.”
When public sentiment runs so strongly this way, and the sentiment of the political class runs the other way, coercive measures such as sanctions become inevitable. But that coercion may be dangerous to the continuation of the European project.
This week, former Czech Republic president Vaclav Klaus issued a fiery denunciation of the EU’s scheme: “We are protesting the attempt to punish us and force us into obedience.” He said that his nation should prepare itself to exit the European Union altogether. But he also took all the subtext hiding behind refugee politics and made it explicit. “We refuse to permit the transformation of our country into a multicultural society . . . as we currently see in France and in Great Britain.”
In the past year, Western European politicians often scolded Eastern European governments for retreating from European values, “the open society,” and democracy. And Eastern Europeans on social media just as often threw that rhetoric back in their face. Which looked more like an open democratic society, Paris with its landmarks patrolled by the military — or Krawkow, with its Christmas market unspoiled by the need for automatic weapons?
The Eastern European governments are right to reject the farcical 2015 scheme. First because it is based on so many lies. Western Europe’s policy on “refugees” has been dishonest from beginning to end. The vast majority of people arriving are not fleeing war in Syria or Iraq. They are coming from Chad, Afghanistan, and Eritrea, and they are looking for economic opportunity in Europe.
There’s also the fact that Germany, France, and Britain already have Islamic and immigrant ghettos that can incorporate — that is, hide — new migrants. The settlement of these migrants in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic means the establishment of new ghettos, against the wishes of current residents and a crashing tsunami of public opinion.
The security concerns are very real. Terrorists such Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the 2015 attacks at the Bataclan theater and other spots in Paris, have used the migrant flow to escape detection when returning from Syria to commit jihadi violence in Europe. And even if immediate danger is not imminent, Eastern European leaders have noted that once European communities accepted small numbers of immigrants, the demand for accepting more only grew.
What Eastern European countries see is that in the past three decades, Western European countries have elected to import religious and racial divisions into their society.
Surely, Eastern European leaders have noticed that incorporation of Muslim populations in Western Europe creates new demands on the government, both in social services and in policing. Germany and Sweden must now cope with a giant flow of unskilled labor into economies that have no demand for unskilled labor by people who haven’t acquired the native language. Britain and France must cope with their immigrant communities by building an ever larger and more invasive security state, one that is straining to cope with the number of known radicals. Richer nations such as France and Britain can afford and are habituated to the domestic surveillance that grows with “multiculturalism.”
What Eastern European countries see is that in the past three decades, Western European countries have elected to import religious and racial divisions into their society. The early returns are bad enough to dissuade them from imitating their neighbors to the west.
The threats from bureaucrats in Brussels are also counterproductive. After all, Eastern Europe has some recent historical experience of officious government employees who think that population transfers are just part of getting on board with the ideological project the future demands.
Right now, the Western European political class can continue to blame and threaten their Eastern European partners. But perhaps they should see the resistance from Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic as a warning, just like Brexit, or the rise of populist parties. A course correction is desperately needed. And politicians can push a recalcitrant public for only so long.