Besides Brexit there appears to be another breakdown in relationships on the horizon within the EU with a divide growing between eastern and western Europe over immigration. European Council President Donald Tusk called the EU’s attempts to impose mandatory refugee quotas “highly divisive” and “ineffective”, overshadowing the opening of the two-day EU summit which had been expected to concentrate on Brexit.
The reemergence of immigration at the top of the agenda shows how little progress has been made by the EU over the past two years in solving this political minefield. In the end, the leaders made little headway saying that agreement on a new immigration policy was unlikely before mid-2018.
In what appeared to be a separate issue, in a joint statement at the closing of the summit on Friday 15th December, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that they will support the Commission if it decides to trigger Article 7 against Warsaw next week. But they also voiced hope that Poland’s new Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki would do what it takes to avert the sanctions through a dialogue with the Commission.
Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, which has never been used until now, is sometimes referred to as “the nuclear option”. It was designed to defend the EU’s core values such as democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law. If the EU notices a “serious and persistent breach” of these values it can activate Article 7 and suspend membership rights, such as voting in the EU Council or access to the single market.
Commission Vice President Frans Timmerman said that he was concerned about four recent Polish legislative measures, including a law that would revamp the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), the body that nominates Poland’s top judges, ending the terms of its 15 judges and allowing parliament, where the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has a narrow majority, to nominate their successors and should these new legislative measures be implemented, they would “greatly amplify the threat to the rule of law” and “seriously erode the independence of the judiciary,”
So why is the threat of triggering Article 7 being supported by Macron and Merkel. The ruling PiS party in Poland have made it clear that they have the right to say “no” to refugees with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of PiS stating in a speech in July 2017 that “We have not exploited the countries from which these refugees are coming to Europe these days, we have not used their labor force and finally we have not invited them to Europe. We have a full moral right to say ‘no’.”
With France and Germany having the most immigrants per capita of the EU 27 states (the UK excluded) they are hoping that this threat will force the Poles to allow in more refugees. Other countries, especially those in central and eastern Europe are not happy to share this burden due to worries about terrorism and cultural identity.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and maybe M&M are now seeing that the opening of their borders since the outbreak of the refugee crisis in 2015 as not the wisest of decisions made by their governments especially as France have seen 14 terrorist attacks since 2014 and Germany 6. Merkel is also suffering at home, having seen her CDU parties majority reduced drastically in the last election with the right-wing AfD gaining seats in the Bundestag for the first time on the back of an anti-immigration ticket, a clear indication that the German electorate were unhappy with Merkels “Willkommen Alle” approach to the refugees. She is now struggling to reach agreement with any of the parties to form a coalition government and there has even been talk of another election.
So all is not well in the United States of Europe
Interestingly, Poland have had no reported terrorist attacks since 2014. Makes you think.