Monday

20th Nov 2017

Opinion

Europe's looming dichotomy

  • Czech president Milos Zeman (l), with his prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka (r) gave an unequivocal message to refugees: "No one has invited you to come here" (Photo: Czech government)

There is something rotten in Central Europe. This uncomfortable truth surfaced most recently after the latest meeting of the Visegrad Group last Friday (4 September).

The regional body has always been better at limiting divergence through the socialisation of political elites rather than generating consensus.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But this time, the four prime ministers spoke in unison, rejecting the notion of refugee allocation through quotas and reminding the rest of the EU that they have long pointed out the need to tackle migration's "root causes".

Faced with an influx of migrants through the Balkan route, Viktor Orban's government in Hungary has already constructed a fence on the border with Serbia, an EU membership candidate country, and is considering building another to separate it from Croatia, a member state (but outside Schengen).

That the Union's fervently nationalist and illiberal 'enfant terrible' would engage in such politics of enclosure might not be that shocking. But even the traditionally socially liberal Czechs now seem to be boarding the same ship.

Former Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, has launched a petition claiming the government is not confronting the growing pressure of European powers on the Czech Republic to "sacrifice its national interests, as we have [done] many times in the past."

Tens of thousands have already signed the petition.

Milos Zeman, current Czech president, issued a short message to the incoming refugees that likely would end any respectable politician's political career further to the West: "No one has invited you to come here."

Protection for borders

In a recent poll, 75% of Czech respondents opted in favour of reinstating national borders, the erstwhile symbol of the society's imprisonment in the dystopia of "real socialism".

Rising populist politicians work relentlessly to increase society's anxiety; the only manifest terrorists in a country which that has not seen a terrorist act in decades.

They are finding support among many more than just the "losers" in the 1990s neoliberal economic transition, who now vent their frustration on the culturally-distinct refugees.

They are also being listened to by the 'petite bourgeoisie' that has gleefully participated in the dismantling of the social state; for there is no compassion to be wasted on the less fortunate.

People do not need protection; borders and the newly-found national values do.

Neoliberalism is no longer merely a prescription to rid society of corruption and wasteful spending. After the last economic crisis, it is being reinvigorated as a means of cultural preservation, fending against the "aliens" who wish to feed upon the welfare state.

By and large, the political elite have their ears to the ground, which makes them hard to look up to.

Nationalistic outlook

They share the nationalistic outlook of the masses, showing scant enthusiasm for the European political project, while becoming unnerved at any suggestions that money could cease flowing from Brussels.

Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, a Social Democrat, is on record saying that "European funds are a means of solidarity. They should not be linked to solving the migration crisis."

Such understanding of solidarity is perhaps as far removed from the "responsibility for the world" that was at the core of the first post-revolutionary president Vaclav Havel's political programme.

Sobotka’s statement, coming from a representative of a state that, incidentally, is one of the greatest recipients of EU aid, may betray a lack of maturity of the political classes in new EU member states.

More likely, however, is the modern technocratic mentality of government characterised by management and manipulation that yields to what Havel called the "temptation of nothingness" and saw as a universal hallmark of globalised modernity.

Reflection of the West

What we now see in Central Europe is not the result of the unfinished business of post-communist transition. It is more like a mirror in which societies to the West should start recognising traces of themselves.

The EU, challenged by the flow of migrants seeking protection and a better life, is in the midst of a crisis that threatens not its civilisation but its shared political future, and ultimately the shared expectation that political conflicts will be resolved peacefully.

Instead of coming together to construct a true European polity, the EU is dissolving into politically-diverse pluriverses that will become progressively alienated from one another.

To avoid this fate, EU leaders dealing with the migration crisis will have to forge and breathe life into truly collective and political, not technocratic and managerial, solutions.

Dealing with the push factors of migration, mobilising security apparatuses to dismantle the trafficking networks, incentivising regular migration flows while checking, in an effective, humane and principled way, irregular flows.

Finding solutions in all these areas will demand significant resources and the courage to confront, through democratic process, populist counterforces.

Ondrej Ditrych teaches international politics at Charles University in Prague and coordinates its Karl Deutsch Security Square research centre

Visegrad members must stick together

Informal coalitions are becoming more important in EU politics, the Czech EU affairs minister says, as V4 leaders meet in Prague on immigration.

Mind the gap: inequality in our cities

Minimum wages, 'living' wages and a universal basic income are all part of the ongoing mix to find ways to reduce social inequality across the EU.

The anti-glyphosate lobby strikes again

Opponents of glyphosate too often rely on one - contested - piece of research, or smear their opponents as stooges for the chemicals industry.

EU's eastern partnership needs revival

A week before a summit with EU eastern neighbours, Sweden and Poland's foreign ministers propose "a way ahead" for the relationship that is more focused on people's needs.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  2. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  3. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  4. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  6. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  7. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  8. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  10. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  11. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  3. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersMale Business Leaders Gather in Copenhagen to Advance Gender Equality
  5. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened
  6. EU2017EEEstonia Anticipates More Digital Cooperation With Sweden
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina Launches Campaign to Protect IPR of Foreign Companies
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Condemns Attacks on Ruta Vanagaite and the Shredding of Her Books in Lithuania
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesDiscover the Future of the Bio-Based Economy. Register Now for the BBI Stakeholder Forum!
  10. European Free AllianceWelcome Catalonia!
  11. UNICEFGrowing Number of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in Greece in Need of Shelter
  12. Counter BalanceNature Destruction Cannot Be Compensated For, Say NGOs