“Sentence first, verdict later,” said the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. A variation of this—action first, changes to the rules later—has animated Europe’s response to various crises, ranging from the euro (where bailout rules and much else went by the board), to terrorism and the migrant crisis. Now Austria is taking things a step further: it’s unilaterally imposing migrant quotas, no matter what the EU-wide rules say to the contrary. Reuters reports:
Austria said on Thursday it would go ahead with introducing daily caps on migrants despite warnings from Brussels that the move broke European Union rules, which have already been badly stretched by the migration crisis engulfing the bloc.
Vienna announced it would let in no more than 3,200 people and cap asylum claims at 80 per day from Friday as it tries to cut immigration, drawing criticism from the European Union’s migration chief.
“Politically I say we’ll stick with it … it is unthinkable for Austria to take on the asylum seekers for the whole of Europe,” Austria’s Chancellor Werner Faymann said on arriving at an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels.
Around 700,000 migrants entered Austria last year and about 90,000 applied for asylum in the country sitting on the migrant route from Turkey via Greece and the Balkans to Germany.
At a summit dinner tonight, EU leaders are due to discuss what’s being called Plan B, the notion put forward by the Visegrad countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary) to set up fences and send guards to Macedonia border with Greece, thus cutting off the Balkans route to migrants and protecting Central, Western, and Northern Europe. Greece is, of course, screaming bloody murder about this plan, which would leave them holding the bag for the whole refugee crisis; the Visegrad countries, for their part, maintain Greece has not been holding up its end of the deal.
The Austrian plan makes Plan B all the more likely to get implemented, albeit in a piecemeal fashion. The Austrian quotas shut off the path between the Balkans and Germany anyway, setting up a domino effect down the migration path. Slovenia, which is in the Schengen Zone, has been making preparations for sealing off its border with Croatia. Croatia, Serbia, and Macedonia, which have been mostly cooperating in smoothly shuttling refugees north, are likely to scramble to seal themselves off too.
And while this is easy to criticize, the sense of panic and emergency among many European nations as spring grows nearer is very real. Until and unless Angela Merkel can bring herself to craft a harder line on immigration that the whole Continent can agree on, this kind of fumbling, blind approach is going to look more and more attractive.