Anna Wójcik: How does Poland’s vote in favor of refugees relocation agreement influence its position in the European Union and Central Europe?
Péter Balázs : Poland made a good decision. It decided not to stay in a remote corner with other Visegrad countries and Romania, but recognized the center of the gravity of the European Union and the point of discussion. The core of the “quota debate” is not the quota in itself, which is a technical issue, but member states’ willingness to demonstrate solidarity with Germany, or refusal to do it.
Germany has been a promoter of Visegrad countries in the European Union for a long time. It is the biggest investor and trade partner in the region. Therefore it is in V4 countries’ best interest to understand Germany’s perspective on the current crisis. Especially in the case of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland, which are faced with purely symbolic decision, as they have not witnessed waves of migrants on their borders yet, like Hungary.
What would happen if Germany decided to close its borders to asylum seekers?
All refugees know the name of Germany, and for many it is a primary destination. For the time being, Germany is kind enough not to close its borders to those people. It would be a disaster. Where would all the refugees go? They would stay in Austria. What if Austria closed the borders as well? They’d stay in Hungary, Croatia or Slovenia. This would shift the problem instead of bringing us closer to a much-needed solution. But the truth is, Germany cannot absorb hundreds of thousands asylum seekers alone. Even if they concentrate in Germany for a while, they should spring from that source to other EU countries, too.
Is Poland’s vote going to strain relations in the Visegrad Group? Do Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Romania feel betrayed?
Nobody said so. Actually, officials expressed the opposite opinion. Foreign Affairs Minister of Hungary Péter Szijjártó concluded that Visegrad is still there, despite the Polish vote. This underscores the weight of V4 cooperation for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. V4 is priority even when one of the countries goes its own way.
What about other regional partnerships in Central Europe?
There is nothing better than V4. I like to call it a 4-wheel driven car. You don’t need a fifth wheel to drive. However, from time to time you can take passengers, such as Austria, Romania, or others. We should continue this way.
How does the refugee crisis influence EU relationship with the Balkans and Turkey?
The Balkans and Greece are transit countries. They are part of the refugees’ land route to Europe. Meanwhile Turkey is where for many the route begins. No one can protect Greek islands borders, as simply islands are too many. The only country, which can prevent the influx of refugees to Europe via the Eastern route, is Turkey. EU has always needed Turkey, but refused to recognize its real importance and preferred a somehow patronizing approach. This is bound to change in the current circumstances.
Péter Balázs is former Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs.