Refugee crisis reveals fundamental splits in European political parties

Robert Fico and Martin Schulz in Bratislava. [European Parliament]

The leader of the European Parliament’s Socialists & Democrats group has called for the suspension of the Slovak delegation, following the controversial statements of Prime Minister Robert Fico. EURACTIV France reports

Gianni Pittella, the head of the S&D group in the European Parliament, on Wednesday (23 September) asked for Robert Fico’s SMER party to be suspended from the Party of European Socialists (PES).

“The position made clear by Robert Fico […] has embarrassed the whole Progressive family,” the leader of the S&D group said at a PES summit in Brussels on 23 September. Among his controversial statements on the refugee crisis, Robert Fico has said that the “mass migration of Muslim immigrants who would start to build mosques will not to be tolerated”, and called for the “restriction of the freedom of Muslims in Europe”.

Gianni Pittella also described Robert Fico’s assertion that “Slovakia is built for Slovaks, not for minorities” as an “embarrassment” for his political family.

>>Read: Commission frowns on ‘Christian only’ solidarity with migrants

The Slovakian premier has attracted attention in recent weeks for his unwavering opposition to the refugee distribution system and a number of controversial statements on the refugee crisis, notably that his country would only accept Christian refugees.

After EU member states accepted a distribution plan for 120,000 refugees, despite heavy opposition from a number of Eastern European countries, Robert Fico announced that he would fight the decision at the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Controversial statements

“The persistent unwillingness to take responsibility and show solidarity in the framework of the refugee crisis contrasts with our values and political convictions,” said Gianni Pittella.

The Slovakian SMER party had already been suspended from the PES in 2006 due to its association with “extreme nationalists”. It was then re-integrated into the party in 2008.

The Orbán case

The Socialists are not alone in facing severe differences of opinion from some of their affiliated heads of government. Within the European People’s Party, Viktor Orbán has also put the unity of Europe’s centre right under strain.

While the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has thrown the doors of her country wide open to Syrian refugees, the Hungarian leader, a member of the same political family, recently passed a law allowing him to deploy the army to protect the country’s border and authorised the use of non-lethal weapons against refugees.

>>Read: ALDE requests nuclear option over Hungary

In response to this latest contravention of European values by Hungary, the European Parliament’s liberal ALDE group, along with French Socialist MEPs, demanded that the Parliament invoke Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty and suspend some of Hungary’s rights in the EU. 

EU leaders have agreed on the outlines of a two-year plan to deal with unprecedented numbers of migrants fleeing the Middle East and Africa.

But implementing the system to resettle or relocate 160,000 refugees is proving to be highly contentious at a time of rising anti-immigration parties in Europe. Many countries, including France and Germany, do not reject the idea of burden-sharing for refugees, but contend that the European Commission's proposed quota system needs to be reworked.

>> Read: Germany and France urge Commission to revise immigration plan

EU leaders argued through the night at a summit in June over the plan, wary of taking in migrants and reflecting deep national rivalries that the bloc's cooperation is supposed to transcend. They have set December as the latest deadline to agree final numbers.

>> Read: EU migration meeting turns into fracas

But the refugee crisis has worsened since then. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker now hopes to convince EU member states to accept the mandatory distribution of 160,000 refugees.

>> Read: Juncker suffers double blow on immigration at summit

In order to achieve this, the Dublin Regulation, which forces refugees to apply for asylum in the first EU country they arrive in, and is often accused of destroying solidarity between EU countries, would have to be altered or suspended Germany has already suspended the Dublin Regulation for Syrian refugees.

>> Read: Germany suspends Dublin agreement for Syrian refugees

Such an ambitious policy would require a fundamental change in attitude among EU leaders, who in May refused a similar distribution plan for just 40,000 refugees.

The urgency of the migration crisis will force the EU to review the list of safe countries of origin and examine the system of distribution for asylum seekers, two issues that have been blocked at the European level for years.

>> Read: Juncker defies EU countries with distribution plan for 160,000 refugees

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