sexta-feira, 25 de dezembro de 2015
Slovakia defends its closed doors on migration
Slovakia defends its closed doors on migration
The foreign minister explains why his country is bucking EU migration quotas.
By BENJAMIN ORESKES AND JOSEPH J. SCHATZ 12/24/15, 5:30 AM CET Updated 12/25/15, 7:14 AM CET
WASHINGTON — Slovakia’s chief diplomat, Miroslav Lajčák, turned tense when asked to explain why his country is leading resistance against the German-backed effort to residstribute migrants across the bloc.
“You cannot turn into a multi-cultural society overnight,” Lajčák told POLITICO in an interview at the German Marshall Fund’s ornate Washington office in late December.
The country of about 5 million has been trying to block EU plans to allocate thousands of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African migrants — many of them Muslim — across the European Union, via a quota system.
And in conversations in Washington, Lajčák, Slovakia’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister, made the case that European and other foreign leaders need to understand the domestic political constraints under which officials from Slovakia, and other members of the Central European Visegrad group, are working.
“The political leaders in Slovakia respond to the feelings and expectations of the Slovak citizens,” Lajčák told POLITICO. “And for me as a foreign minister, this is very difficult because I don’t remember any other issue where our national position — which is really built on the feelings of people — has been so much in contrast with what is expected of us from our partners.”
Hungary’s Viktor Orbán has been the most outspoken and controversial opponent of allowing hundreds of thousands of refugees into the European Union, earning criticism for his vitriol — many call it xenophobic — against Muslim migrants. He has been joined in his skepticism by Poland’s newly elected right-wing government.
“You cannot turn into a multi-cultural society overnight” — Miroslav Lajčák
But Slovakia was the first to bring a lawsuit to the European Court of Justice aimed at blocking the mandatory quota system. Hungary followed its lead a day later. At one point earlier this year, the country’s interior minister said Slovakia would only accept Christian migrants, the kind of statement that had earned criticism from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
There have even been warnings from some quarters that a lack of cooperation could lead Western European nations to revamp the Schengen border-free zone to create a smaller grouping excluding the countries that won’t take a share of migrants. German officials have also made pointed comments about the enormous amount of EU funds Central Europe has received since the region joined the bloc in 2004.
Lajčák dismissed such talk. “I’m really disappointed that instead of discussing these issues and these are real issues – we are being labeled as not understanding the solidarity — not being European, not deserving of membership in the European Union, and we are being threatened with not getting the future funds.”
No history of immigration
He argued that the large European countries pushing for a more generous embrace of the migrants plan have multicultural pasts — often the result of their colonial empires in Africa and Asia — that makes it easier for them to accept asylum-seekers.
“So for centuries [they] are used to the people from Africa,” he said. “It’s neither to praise or blame. It’s a reality. We are also getting our people used to the presence of these migrants.”
Indeed, Slovakia is not traditionally a place that people emigrate to — it’s a place they immigrate from to work in other countries. However, Slovakia also happens to be one of the least ethnically homogenous countries in the region. Hungarians make up almost 9 percent of the population, while the number of Roma, or Gypsies — an ethnic group subjected to widespread unofficial discrimination — varies from 2 percent to as much as 10 percent, depending on who’s counting.
However, those two groups have been part of the country’s fabric for centuries, and Slovakia has seen few newcomers. The International Organisation for Migration notes that Slovakia “was not affected by the dramatic increase of migration during the twentieth century.”
Slovakia was a member of the Soviet bloc, Lajčák pointed out, and he said that most of the foreigners living there are from other member-states; if they’re not, they’re from Ukraine, Russia or the former Yugoslavia.
We “want to compensate on quotas in order to demonstrate that we are equally committed” — Miroslav Lajčák
Since joining the European Union and the Schengen zone in 2004, the percentage of foreign-born residents in Slovakia has grown steadily but remained comparatively low – just 1.4 percent. According to IOM, only five EU countries — Lithuania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland – have a lower percentage of foreign-born residents. Neighboring Austria has a far bigger share of migrants – nearly 12 percent of the population is foreign-born.
Lajčák noted that Austria “turned into a multi-cultural country as a result of the Yugoslav wars, for example. So for us this is the first signal and I think it’s up to political leaders to lead —to signal properly and reinterpret it to our citizens.”
He said Slovakia is beginning this acclimation process by hosting 500 asylum seekers whose entry into Austria is pending. He also noted that his country pledged €21 million to the crisis.
We “want to compensate on quotas in order to demonstrate that we are equally committed,” said Lajčák. “That’s exactly how I see it.”
Lajčák supported a European Union coordinated response but criticized the “one-size-fits-all” quota system, saying that there doesn’t have to be a “uniform solution for each country.” How that would work, however, remains unclear. The priority right now should be figuring out how to implement and strengthen the Schengen Zone’s external border, he said.
A seasoned diplomat – he’s expected to be Slovakia’s candidate for U.N. secretary-general — the foreign minister conceded his country will “probably” have to take some migrants, and the long-term demographic changes sweeping across Europe will eventually reach his homeland.
But right now it’s happening too fast, he says, and his country’s leaders need time and political space.
“Obviously this is how the EU is built,” he said, “and if we are part of the EU, it will come,” he said.
Oreskes and Schatz write for the POLITICO Pro Europe Brief in Washington, DC.
Benjamin Oreskes and Joseph J. Schatz