September 28, 2015
In Central Europe, and Slovakia in particular, the current refugee crisis reveals an awful lot about the prevailing public mind-set and the nature of our political elites. Few of these revelations are in any way pleasing. Positions held, and openly articulated, by politicians like Prime Ministers Robert Fico (Slovakia) and Viktor Orban (Hungary) shocked many external observers.
However, let us focus solely on the last (at this moment) stage of this drama: the EU Council of Ministers has used the “nuclear option” of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in a politically highly sensitive area. The PM of one member state – Slovakia – says that he will simply ignore that legitimate decision. “From my dead-cold hand.” He will deliberately breach European law, risking open conflict with the institutions and most of the other member states. Even the prospect of sanctions.
There are a couple of bad things you could say about Fico, but surely not that he’s stupid. He knows that playing with deep-seeded prejudices – against “the others”, which now means Muslims, against the “dictate from Brussels”, etc. – scores political points. He knows only too well that infringement procedures take a long time to unfurl. No decision can be expected before the next general elections. For now, that´s what counts. And, of course, he knows that between now and a possible Court decision against Slovakia, hundreds of things could happen.
Purely formally, Fico may feel happy. He is riding a wave of fear and prejudice (in fact, he is actively feeding it); the price will be paid later. Probably by somebody else. And maybe not at all. What he fails to perceive is the importance of informal relations. In the EU, you need to slowly build your political capital and invest/spend it in order to advance your interests. And from this angle, what the Slovak government did in the last few weeks was a clear debacle.
Not because it was outvoted in the Council. Countries are usually trying to avoid it, but sometimes it happens – they use their legitimate right to oppose the majority. Much worse is the way it happened in this case. Thanks to five grave mistakes committed by the Slovak government.
Read more in my commentary in the Social Europe Journal.