European Disunion
Brussels Browbeats the East over Refugees

The European Commission announced today that it would sanction the usual Central European suspects—Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary—for refusing to participate in its ill-fated migrant relocation scheme. Financial Times explains: 

The EU introduced a plan to “relocate” up to 160,000 asylum seekers living in Italy and Greece to other countries in the bloc. But so far only 20,000 have moved, with none going to the trio of central and eastern European countries.

On Tuesday, the European Commission launched infringement proceedings, a long-winded process that could lead to fines, against Prague, Warsaw and Budapest.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the commissioner in charge of migration, said: “Relocation is not a choice. It is a moral commitment. It is a legal decision, with legal obligations agreed collectively, which has to be carried out collectively, without exceptions.”

It is little surprise that Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary would be singled out here, since they have long led the charge in opposing Brussels’s migrant policy and this relocation scheme in particular. Still, the EU’s attempts to blame those three countries for the policy’s failures is both misleading and misguided.

In truth, most EU countries are dragging their feet on fulfilling their relocation quotas. Official data shows that Bulgaria, for instance, has relocated 47 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece out of a pledged 1,302; Slovakia, meanwhile, has relocated 16 out of a promised 902. Even the heavy lifters like France and Germany are nowhere near implementing their full quotas.

Meanwhile, the process itself remains hampered by technical troubles and bureaucratic woes. The Commission’s latest report, for instance, takes Italy to task for failing to have a centralized procedure for relocating migrants. “The current practice, whereby migrants eligible for relocation are spread all over the Italian territory,” states the report, “is complicating the relocation process and creating logistical problems… particularly with regard to ensuring proper health checks before the transfer takes place.” That assessment hardly inspires confidence that Rome is holding up its end of the bargain, and it only adds to the picture of mismanagement of a process that has been plagued by inadequate staffing and interminable delays.

Seen in this light, Brussels’ sanctimonious scapegoating looks even worse. To be sure, Prague, Warsaw, and Budapest are hardly acting as cooperative partners in resolving the migrant crisis. But stern lectures and sanctions are unlikely to change their calculus, given their deep-seated opposition to the policy and the EU’s own incompetence in implementing it. And the decision to sue the trio will only deepen the bloc’s East-West divide, setting the stage for a protracted legal battle between Brussels and three Central European capitals.

At a moment when elections in France and the UK have spurred new hope for the EU, then, here is a timely reminder that the bloc still remains quite dysfunctional. As it stands now, the EU lacks both the political will and the practical capacity to cope with its current share of migrants—let alone another wave that could well come in the future.

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