European Western Balkans

Reshaping the EU policy on migration

Photo: Sandor Gemes / Wikimedia Commons

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban paid a short visit to Austria’s capital on Tuesday, 30 January, where he met the leaders of the country’s ruling coalition, with whom he shares similar views on migration and the way Europe has been dealing with the issue.

Thus, it had been announced that immigration would be one of the topics the ideological allies would tackle upon, as both parties advocate stronger external borders and stricter controls.

Orban has begun the New Year with several inflammatory outbursts in relation to immigration. In his interview for the German Bild, he referred to the Muslim refugees as “Muslim invaders” and downgraded multiculturalism to a mere “illusion”.

“For instance, somebody who wants to come from Syria to Hungary must cross four countries that are not as rich as Germany, but stable. So, they are not running for their lives there. They are economic migrants who are looking for a better life”, he stressed.

The victory of the Conservatives in Austria and the forming of the coalition government with the right-wing Freedom’s Party has been praised in Hungary. Orban has already raised his hopes that the Visegrad Four have found their ally in relation to the migration issue.

Although the new Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has rejected the allegations that the new government would move closer to Visegrad countries that have come into conflict with the EU due to their hard-line position in relation to the immigration, the topic used as a centrepiece of both coalition members’ campaigns has immediately come to the forefront of the coalition’s agenda.

In the wake of his mandate as a Chancellor, Kurz stressed that the EU should find other ways to tackle the issue, rather than continue insisting on redistributing refugees within the Union.

“If (redistributing refugees) isn’t possible, then they should be helped in safe areas on their own continent,” Kurz said. “The EU should support that, perhaps even organize it, and back it militarily.”

(Deutsche Welle, 24 December 2017)

During his first official visit to Germany as chancellor, Kurz and Merkel pledged to increase their cooperation and reduce illegal immigration.

“We have to reduce illegal immigration,” Merkel said during the press conference. “We need to strengthen our partnership with countries of origin and focus on economic solutions.”

(Politico, 17 January 2018)

Prior to his visit, Kurz noted in his interview for the “Frankfurter Allgemeine” that he no longer saw a rift between the two countries because of the dispute over Merkel’s “Willkommenspolitik”, the Bild reports.

“The German position is now much closer to ours than two years ago,” said Kurz. Germany is “our most important neighbour and partner”.

(Bild, 17 January 2018)

European Union’s approach to immigration has been a matter of contention among the EU bureaucrats as well and the debate still does not seem to wane.

Recently, European Council President Donald Tusk’s set of proposals on migration intended for the EU summit in December has been faced with Commission’s staunch criticism.

In a paper sent to the EU leaders, Tusk criticized the issue of mandatory quotas by referring to them as “highly divisive” and “ineffective”. He called for the re-establishment of the trust among member states and a broader agreement among them on the issue in order to address illegal migration effectively, thus implying that the support on mandatory refugee quotas was increasingly losing ground.

EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos characterized these allegations as “unacceptable” and “anti-European”, as they “ignore all the work done over the past years” and “undermines one of the main pillars of the EU project”.

“Europe without solidarity cannot exist,” he added as he recalled that Tusk’s role should be to “defend the European unity and principles”.

(Euractiv, 12 December 2017)

“I would like to thank you for pulling together to protect the EU’s external border”, the Chancellor Kurz said during the press conference on Tuesday – an indication that Austria certainly will remain one of the hardliners with regard to the issue.  And the tensions on the EU level will certainly make the existing divisions less and less reconcilable. It thus remains to be seen how the upcoming Austrian presidency, having the implementation of the European Agenda on Migration as one of its priorities, will address the issue.

Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States

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