The last European Council (EUCO) meeting took place at the end of June, having a wide range of important questions on the agenda, ranging from supporting Ukraine, defence and security, enlargement issues, as well as China and the Eastern Mediterranean.
This meeting was marked, however, by strong opposition from Poland and Hungary regarding the migration issue, leading to the blockage of the final joint statement. Such reaction from Warsaw and Budapest was nothing more than a demonstration of protest and frustration over a migration pact that the EU countries pushed through earlier in June in a decision not requiring unanimity.
Under this pact, according to different estimations, at least 30,000 migrants per year would be redistributed away from Italy, Greece and other countries suffering from strong migration pressure away to other parts of the EU. The countries who don’t want to take them in could pay around €20,000 per person in a so-called “solidarity” fee instead.
The Council’s decision was highly criticized by the Polish government, and at the EUCO meeting Warsaw went even further by presenting its “secure borders plan”, announcing its five points, or rather the “noes”. The Polish PM, Mateusz Morawiecki put it very clear: “This plan is clear. ‘No’ to the forced relocation of immigrants. ‘No’ to the violation of the right of veto by individual states and ‘No’ to the violation of the principle of freedom, of the principle of decision-making by states alone. ‘No’ to Brussels imposing penalties on member states.” Thus, highlighting the key grievances that Warsaw has accumulated against Brussels over the years.
But this migration stumbling block is not something new and dates back to 2015, when the European Union faced an unprecedented situation with a massive inflow of refugees and migrants from the Middle East, mostly from Syria. Back then diverse European states reacted differently. For instance, Poland was firmly against forced relocation of migrants back then and maintains this position today.
Worth noting that in 2021 this East European country suffered from the instrumentalisation of migrants in a “hybrid attack” launched by Russia via its Belarusian vassal, when the Belarusian state encouraged the migrants from the Middle East, mostly from Iraq, to come to the country and then facilitated their logistics towards the border with Poland promising an easy entry to the EU.
Unfortunately, this hybrid attack using migrants is ongoing. For instance, since the beginning of this year over 16 000 illegal immigrant attempts to enter Poland from Belarus were registered. And with the recent arrival of Wagner fighters to Belarus, Warsaw and Vilnius are considering the complete border closure with Belarus.
Poland is often portrayed as migrant-sceptic country, but nobody can ignore that after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this country hosted over a million Ukrainians under the EU temporary protection mechanism, authorized by the Council Directive 2001/55/EC. Moreover, Poland was and remains the main EU country for Ukrainian migrants with 75,5% of all foreign nationals having received their first resident permit in Poland in 2021 were Ukrainians, according to Eurostat.
Warsaw often comes under scrutiny and is constantly criticized by the West European states, including France, regarding its stance on migration policies of the bloc. The Polish Government however, is not ready to cede on this matter, especially given crucial legislative elections scheduled for November 2023. Worth bearing in mind that 53.1% of Poles have concerns regarding rising migration to Poland, according to a survey conducted earlier in July by IBRiS. Most of those people support the ruling party – PiS, thus its legitimacy legitimacy and stance over a migration issue.
The migration problem is a very complex issue with the divergent opinions among the EU member-states and the Union’s decision-making mechanism itself remain a question difficult to make everybody happy about. At the same time, the resolution of this question does’t lie solely in the migrant reception capacity and willingness of the member-states, but also on the other side of the Mediterranean — helping to improve the standards of living in those countries, and it seems the Polish officials start to understand it.
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