The European Commission stepped up its action against the refusal of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to engage in the EU’s migrant quotas scheme on July 26.
The Visegrad Four, which also includes Slovakia, is seeking to resist the scheme, which was passed by EU states in 2015 in a bid to help redistribute 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece. Driven by populist governments looking to stoke up support domestically, the Central European region looks set to remain in a tricky and slow moving conflict with Brussels - which has grown more confident after seeing off populist challenges in the Netherlands and France - for some time.
The final commission meeting before the summer break saw the EU executive seek to slap down a marker in the growing confrontation with Visegrad political leaders. The same day as the commission announced it will move on to the next step of the infringement procedures against the three states, Poland was also handed a harsh warning that it will face the Article 7 “nuclear option” should it seek to continue with a controversial judicial reform. Earlier, employing strong words, an advisor to the EU’s top court said a Slovak and Hungarian legal challenge to the migrant quotas scheme should be dismissed.
The commission launched the infringement procedures against the trio in June. Slovakia was reportedly spared after taking in one more than the bare minimum of 15 refugees over the previous 12 months.
“The replies provided [by the three to the launch of procedures] have not been found satisfactory as none were accompanied by an indication that these Member States would start relocating swiftly to their territory,” the EU executive’s July 26 statement reads.
The commission thus announced it is moving to the next step in the process. Reasoned opinions have been sent to the three countries for non-compliance with their legal obligations on relocation. The Visegrad states have just one month to respond, instead of the customary two, due to the fact that the quotas were an emergency response and the “repeated calls to the three Member States”.
If the responses of the trio are not satisfactory, the commission could refer the case to the European Court of Justice. That is unlikely to persuade any of the defendants - who have shown they are ready to test the revived confidence of the EU - to back down.
None of the countries are likely to cave in since they are busy chasing the populist vote at home. Indeed, the Czech government, which is facing a tough battle ahead of elections in October, almost scrambled to get itself included in the EU’s case, loudly announcing in June it would no longer take any refugees under the scheme.
Some officials in Prague have recently sought to add some reasoned logic to the emotional rhetoric, a nod to the Czech policy to remain apart from the rabble-rousing of Hungary and Poland. However, all are likely to raise their voices to repeat accusations that the EU is encroaching on national sovereignty in response to the commission’s actions.
The V4 insist the quotas represent a security risk and an affront to local opinion. Brussels has railed against Central Europe’s failure to accept the responsibilities, as well as the benefits, of EU membership.
Some in Brussels have tried to link participation in the quota system to the huge volume of EU funds received by V4 states. Local politicians have reacted to that threat with fury, but also said they would rather pay that price than take in refugees.