On October 1-2, CEPA Forum assembled leading US and CEE officials, experts and corporate leaders to discuss transatlantic relations, security challenges in the region, and US-CEE cooperation.

CEPI’s Managing Director Milan Nič participated in the closed-door session Europe’s Migration Crisis: V4 Perspectives. The panel also featured David Král, Director of the Policy Planning Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Károly Grúber, Director General for European CFSP and Policy Planning at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, and Wojciech Zajączkowski, Director of Policy Planning Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland. Edward Lucas, Senior Vice President of CEPA moderated the discussion.

The discussion took place against the background of a continuing influx of refugees into the EU and the qualified majority decision by the EU Council of Ministers to re-allocate 120,000 asylum seekers among the member states. Four EU countries voted against: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia as members of the Visegrad Group plus Romania.  Poland, although it expressed reservations in preparatory meetings of the Visegrad Group (V4), voted for the resolution.  Slovakia intends to challenge the legality of the EU quota decision in the European Court of Justice.

The panel members largely agreed that the official EU migration policy faced a break-down amidst the current crisis with unprecedented number of asylum seekers on the move to Europe. The quota approach was criticized as violating member countries’ sovereignty, and ignoring a likely scenario that most relocated asylum seekers would still try to move to EU countries of their choice after quota-enforced settlement. In the course of the discussion it became clear, however, that opposition to mandatory relocation mechanism was largely driven by domestic politics and tactical considerations on behalf of the V4 leaders. Also, failed integration of the Roma minority could play a role: Central Europeans fear migrants because they mistrust the capacity of the state to integrate the “others” already in their midst.

CEPI’s Director Milan Nič who was the only non-governmental representative on the panel emphasised the fact that domestic debates in most V4 countries are far from being one sided. Concerns of violating the EU spirit of solidarity and lack of compassion with refugees were raised by the Slovak President Andrej Kiska. Czech, Polish, and Slovak Foreign Ministries during internal deliberations warned their governments about huge risks of undermining countries positions in Brussels and Berlin. In the end, these concerns won the day only in Warsaw. Foreign Ministers in Bratislava and Prague lost this argument. Meanwhile, populist drive of Prime Ministers Orbán and Fico have consolidated their positions, helping them to outmanouver the extremist parties on this sensitive issue. According to the latest polls, Fidesz in Hungary has regained lost ground with 33%, and Smer-SD in Slovakia jumped four points to 38% which half a year before the parliamentary elections is significant. At the same time, the V4 block is now seen as spoilers by most of their EU partners and in Brussels, which will be difficult to overcome for a long time.

Meanwhile, various alternative measures to respond to the crises were suggested, including increased aid to refugee camps outside the EU and improved border security enforcement.  But there was little illusion that  any or all of these measures would be sufficient to stop the flow of immigrants in the near future. This was generally seen as a major problem for which no comprehensive solution was offered.