Monday

25th Mar 2019

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

Russia and money laundering in Europe

After Danske Bank, both the US and the EU need to abandon the principle in bank regulation that it is all right to be a crook as long as you are big.

Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Jan Zahradil, EU Commission president Spitzenkandidat for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, responds to Emmaneul Macron's European vision ahead of the May elections.

A compromise proposal for the Article 50 extension

At this week's summit, EU leaders should extend Article 50 until the May European elections. But they should postpone the effective date of the UK's withdrawal from EU rights, rules, and regulations for another year - to May 2020.

News in Brief

  1. Orban vows more EU 'information campaigns'
  2. May 'effectively out of power', says Scottish leader
  3. May under pressure to resign over Brexit endgame
  4. Million march against Brexit, five million sign petition
  5. Italy first G7 country to sign China Belt and Road deal
  6. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  7. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  8. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  2. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  3. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  4. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  5. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  6. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  7. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  8. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us