With the globe still coming to terms with the tragic attacks in Paris a day earlier, officials from Poland and Slovakia took the opportunity to reiterate their opposition to the EU plan to relocate 160,000 migrants across the bloc, and link it once again to the raised threat of terrorism.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and Poland's incoming European Affairs Minister Konrad Szymanski spoke as France was mourning the death of 129, and hundreds of wounded, after a series of attacks on November 13, with responsibility claimed by Islamic State. The EU told both countries not to “give in to base reactions”.
The pair sought to use the opportunity to undermine the EU’s agreement on allocating migrant quotas between member states, seeking to link the horror to migration from the Middle East. While it was not a new route for Slovakia, Szymanski reflects a new stance in Warsaw following the October election in which populist and Eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) seized power from the liberal and pro-EU Civic Platform (PO).
Szymanski’s word came four days after a nationalist march gathered tens of thousands in Warsaw under xenophobic and racist slogans aimed at migrants and Muslims.
“In the face of the tragic acts in Paris, we do not see the political possibilities to implement [the agreement on the reloacation of migrants],” Szymanski told pro-PiS website wpolityce.pl on November 14.
“We have been saying that there are enormous security risks linked to migration. Hopefully, some people will open their eyes now,” Fico said on the same day, Reuters reported.
Central and Eastern European countries have long been sceptical about EU-wide cooperation in handling the migrant crisis, which has unfolded during the civil war in Syria. Of the four Visegrad states, only Poland - under the outgoing PO government - supported the EU vote on the issue, earning fierce criticism from its V4 peers. Under the plan, Warsaw agreed to take a total of 6,500 migrants over the next two years.
Fico, meanwhile, has led the opposition, leveraging the issue to rebuild domestic poitical support. Bratislava has promised to post a legal challenge to the EU decision, and said it will take 100 Christian refugees in total.
It's a tactic pioneered next door by Hungarian peer Viktor Orban, albeit, Budapest has seen tens of thousands cross its southern borders. However, the flood of migrants now facing razor wire and arrest on the borders with Serbia and Croatia are not looking to stay in Hungary, but travel through to Austria and Germany. Outspoken Czech President Milos Zeman has also done his best to link refugees with terrorism.
The reactions to the Parisian tragedy from Poland and Slovakia did not go down well in Brussels. Fico is already on a warning from The Party of European Socialists and Democrats (PES), the umbrella group for Europe's centre-left parties, over his reaction to the migrant crisis. Meanwhile, the EU is watching the euro-sceptic PiS closely to gauge its approach to the bloc. There are numerous potential points of conflict, including environmental legislation and foreign policy.
“I would invite those in Europe who try to change the migration agenda we have adopted ... not to give in to these basic reactions," president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said on the sidelines of G20 summit of world leaders in Turkey. "We should not mix the different categories of people coming to Europe," he insisted.
A regular critic of the Slovak prime minister, President Andrej Kiska sent his condolences to the French people and called for increased unity in Europe. The government ordered security and law enforcement agencies to increase vigilance.
In Poland, some policy detail concerning the new government's stance on migration should arrive once it is sworn in on November 16. Fico has pledged Slovakia will launch a lawsuit against the EU's decision on quotas by the middle of next month.