29th Sep 2023

EU leaders sideline Hungary and Poland over migration

  • Hungary's PM Viktor Orban failing to convince other EU leaders on migration (Photo: European Union)
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EU leaders on Friday (30 June) sidelined Poland and Hungary over a wider dispute on European policy on migration and asylum.

"I prefer to have no conclusions than bad conclusions," said Luxembourg's prime minister Xavier Bettel ahead of the meeting on Friday.

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It is a sentiment likely shared by most other EU leaders at their two-day summit in Brussels that ended on Friday.

A separate statement from European Council president Charles Michel was instead issued — underlying the toxicity of migration ahead of elections in Poland later this year.

On substance, the dispute centred around a political agreement on EU asylum reforms among interior ministers earlier this month.

It included proposals to relocate asylum seekers from frontline arrival states, as part of a wider menu of so-called mandatory solidarity options. EU states would also be able to pay €20,000 per individual not to relocate.

The agreement was reached with a majority vote, with Hungary and Poland opposing, and kickstarts discussions with European Parliament on the overhaul of EU internal asylum rules.

But the dissent by Poland and Hungary is also largely political showboating for a domestic audience given that the EU treaties allow such decisions to be reached by a qualified majority vote.

"It was totally worth it. It was necessary," said Sweden's prime minister Ulf Kristersson of the vote irrespective of Hungarian and Polish opposition.

"I think this is a very good foundation for the work that still is ahead of us," he said.

The bad blood from the Hungarian and Polish leaders also echoes similar grievances over the relocation of asylum seekers that in 2015 led to sharp divisions, legal disputes, and helped scupper previous efforts to overhaul EU asylum rules.

Estonia's prime minister Kaja Kallas said the bitter legacy of those debates poisoned the talks in Brussels.

"We have this spirit of compromise aground the table but if you just say no to everything and everybody else tries to compromise, then that doesn't really work out," she said.

Slovenia's prime minister Robert Golob explicitly laid most of the blame on Budapest.

"Hungary was totally adamant in saying 'I will not vote for any conclusions at all'", he said. "It was not about 'let's do it this way or the other way', it was 'we do not want migration being mentioned at all'," he added.

The rants — and referendum threat

Nationalist-conservative Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, remain at odds with the rest of the EU.

Both have since issued rants that portray irregular migrants as national security threats, amid false claims that the EU is forcing them to relocate asylum seekers.

Morawiecki says he objected because relocations of asylum seekers did not include the word "voluntary". "I wanted to add to the conclusions that it's not forced, it's voluntary. And what did I hear from the other side: you can't add that," he said.

But Morawiecki's comments also leaned heavily on anti-migrant rhetoric ahead of national elections later this year. He claimed Poland was one of the safest countries in Europe, nodding to the current riots in Paris and across France after police shot dead a 17-year old French boy with Algerian roots.

Morawiecki now wants to put the political agreement on EU asylum reforms to a referendum in Poland.

"Let people speak out on this issue: Do they want to live in safe neighbourhoods, safe towns, safe villages — as we have in Poland — or do they want to submit to European Commission pressure?," he said.

Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban made similar racist comments. "They want us to create migrant ghettos in Hungary," he said.

He then described the political agreement on asylum reforms, reached among EU interior ministers last month, as a "coup attempt".

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