Hungary shows EU aid does not ‘buy’ solidarity for refugees

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Refugees on the Turkey-Syria border: will member states act to help people in their position? [Freedom House/Flickr]

Neither financial aid nor economic strength may be sufficient to foment solidarity in tackling the refugee crisis, writes Solon Ardittis.


Solon Ardittis is Managing Director of Eurasylum Ltd, a European research and consulting firm specialising in immigration and asylum policy affairs on behalf of national public authorities and EU institutions. He is also co-editor of “Migration Policy Practice”, a bi-monthly journal published jointly with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The recently agreed EU Joint Action Plan with Turkey raises one question: is financial and in-kind assistance always an effective mechanism to secure solidarity and cooperation from both EU member states and third countries in addressing the current migrant crisis?

The plan, agreed on 15 October, foresees a financial assistance package of up to €3 billion to help Turkey stem the migrant influx. Not only that, the plan also hopes to accelerate the visa-liberalisation process for Turks applying to enter the EU and to “re-energise” talks over Turkey’s membership of the European Union.

Whether this plan will contribute to any reduction in inflows to the EU over the coming weeks and months, when Turkey has reportedly already spent €7 billion on addressing this crisis, remains to be seen. However, the plan does suggest that increased aid and sympathetic diplomacy can at least help motivate the recipients to step up efforts to contain the current migrant influx.

So, is financial and in-kind assistance always sufficient to spread responsibilities within and outside the EU over the current migrant crisis?

The case of Hungary appears to challenge this hypothesis. Hungary is one of the member states that has benefited most from EU financial aid and intra-EU solidarity before and since joining the European Union in 2004.

Suffice to say that the “Partnership Agreement” with Hungary adopted by the European Commission in August 2014, foresees an investment of €21.9 billion in total Cohesion Policy funding during 2014-2020, in addition to €3.45 billion for rural development and €39 million for fisheries and the maritime sector.

However, despite the very significant financial aid and technical assistance it received prior to entering the EU in 2004, and the considerable levels of solidarity funding it has been receiving ever since, Hungary is today one of the member states that not only shows the least solidarity in the context of the current migrant crisis but which has also set out to suspend unilaterally the implementation of many of the most fundamental and hard-earned EU migration policy rules.

Visegrad says ‘no’

The same can of course be said of most of the other Visegrad countries, which have benefited, and continue to benefit, from comparable levels of EU financial aid and technical assistance, and which are among the least cooperative member states in the context of the on-going migrant crisis.

So what about the EU’s most wealthy member states? Are they more prone to act compassionately and share responsibility in line with their wealth, levels of infrastructure and migrant integration capacity?

Despite being the three largest net contributors to the EU budget, Germany, France and the UK have so far adopted very different positions on the migrant crisis. Looking only at the numbers of migrants to be relocated from Greece, Hungary and Italy, France has agreed to accept some 24,000 of them and Germany slightly over 31,000.

This is of course in addition to Germany’s decision to welcome over 800,000 migrants over the coming months. The UK, which has opted against taking part in the relocation scheme, has so far only offered to accept some 20,000 refugees over five years from camps bordering war-torn Syria. It has also provided £1 billion in aid to Syria, as well as an additional £100 million to charities helping people displaced by the conflict.

Reactions to such a restrained effort from one of the EU’s most wealthy members have been strong. For example, in an open letter published on 12 October in The Times and The Guardian, over 350 UK retired judges, Queen’s Counsel, barristers, solicitors and law professors stressed that “the UK should take a fair and proportionate share of refugees, both those already within the EU and those still outside it. The UK’s present offer is deeply inadequate: in Lebanon alone, a country of five million, there are 1.2 million registered Syrian refugees.”

What the above figures therefore suggest is that neither financial assistance nor financial wealth is in itself a sufficient driver of solidarity in the context of the current migrant crisis.

Christian refugees only, please

Public opinion and other considerations, including faith-based ones such as the announcement made by Hungary, Poland and Slovakia that they would only accept Christian refugees from Syria, appear to be more powerful factors in the current decision-making process over the migrant crisis.

Mention should also be made of a recent report published by the German weekly magazine WirtschaftsWoche, citing German government officials who suggest that Germany might be prepared to ease its bailout demands on Greece, in exchange for Greece agreeing to allow more refugees to stay in the country.

So, as in other policy areas, migration diplomacy and solidarity policy are a complex game to play. It is an even more complex one when the rules of the game, or their acceptability, vary so markedly from one member state to another.

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