Virtually since the start of Europe’s refugee crisis, the Visegrad states have adopted a posture on the issue that is antithetical to Europe’s values and poses a real threat to European integration.
The Visegrad group consists of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. It was founded 25 years ago with the aim of these four former Communist states becoming part of the European integration experiment.
“They joined the European Union in 2004,” Deutsche Welle reminds its readers in an article written today by Christoph Hasselbach and titled “Are the Visegrad states sealing off the EU?” but “now…they seem more set on promoting European division.” The Visegrad states “want to shut down the Balkan route to refugees. In doing so, they could effectively exclude Greece from the Schengen zone,” writes Christoph Hasselbach.
He is right. If the Balkan route closes, Greece will end up with hundreds of thousands of refugees in its midst at a time when its own economy has virtually collapsed and the country simply lacks the ability to absorb huge numbers of refugees and migrants.
This is the reason why Greece has been reluctant in offering asylum to the hundreds of thousands that arrived in its shores (more than 850,000) last year, as it should have under the Dublin rules. So Greek authorities let them move on to the core of Europe.
The governments of the Visegrad states feel that the borders should have been sealed long ago. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said recently that “If it had been up to us, the region would have been sealed off long ago.” In turn, the Slovakian foreign minister told Der Spiegel that “as long as there is no joint European strategy, it’s legitimate for the states along the Balkan route to protect their borders. We’re helping them do that.” Of course, Austria has also been asking FYROM to close its borders, so the Visegrad states are not alone in opposing Germany’s refugee policy.
Angela Merkel was the only European leader to display from the very first day a real concern about the fate of refugees who are trying to reach Europe from war-torn regions of the world. This is partly the reason why she opted to adopt an “open-door” refugee policy, and in full awareness that this move would have made her an unpopular figure inside Germany.
Another reason for Merkel’s “unpopular” refugee policy is that she is aware of the bleak demographic picture inside Germany and knows that the economic future of the country needs migrant labor.
Finally, Merkel is a committed Europeanist, which is why she is visibly annoyed by the stance adopted by the Visegrad states. Hence her warning the other day against plans for a “reserve border system” as advocated by the governments of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.
The “reserve border” system envisions an alternative plan in case the Schengen Agreement collapses and wishes to have Greece exit the Schengen area.
Chancellor Merkel knows how dangerous this plan is for Greece and, by extension, for the future of European integration
Merkel is likely to put lots of pressure on the Visegrad states to revise their stance, but it is uncertain whether she will succeed, especially since her own refugee policy has become increasingly unpopular inside Germany.
In the meantime, however, one thing is certain: Greece has found a strong ally in Angela Merkel.