Eastern European nations are toughening their opposition to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plan to force them to take in refugees, arguing that the European Union’s immigration policies may have aided last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov on Tuesday called discussions on quotas for migrants “absurd” following the events in Paris, while Poland’s incoming Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said a day earlier the EU should review its stance on immigration, pledging to accept refugees only if they don’t endanger security. At least 129 people were killed in Paris on Friday, with a Syrian passport found next to the body of one of the suicide bombers registered on the Greek island of Leros, suggesting the holder may have come into Europe claiming to be a political refugee.
The EU is increasingly split along east-west lines over how to deal with the immigration crisis as the European Commission estimates 3 million asylum seekers may be heading toward the bloc by 2017. A group of formerly communist countries led by Hungary, one of the nations most affected by the flood of migrants, have opposed German-led efforts to introduce a quota system to settle them, drawing criticism that the recipients of billions of euros in aid from western Europe aren’t willing to help their richer neighbors.
“The opposition to the quotas has already been there before the attacks,” said Otilia Dhand, an analyst at political-risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence in Brussels. “The attacks are now being used as an additional argument.”
Merkel, who allowed an estimated 1 million asylum seekers into Germany this year, seeks to relocate those fleeing war and civil strife in the Middle East and North Africa across the 28-nation EU. The plan is straining her ties with countries such as Poland and the Baltic nations, which count on German backing for continued sanctions on Russia following President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Asked whether Syrian refugees can be successfully integrated into society, Merkel told reporters on Tuesday the answer is a “clear yes.” Integration means following the rules and laws of the host country, getting a chance to “participate in society” and being placed into a community prepared to be tolerant and more multi-ethnic, she said.
Such sentiment isn’t widely shared by eastern European politicians, who remain wary of opening their societies to foreigners, including those with different religious beliefs.
“Discussing quotas at this point has become absurd,” top Bulgarian diplomat Mitov said in an interview with public radio on Tuesday. “This isn’t the way to solve the problem and to approach it.” Hungary plans to challenge the plan in EU courts, Justice Minister Laszlo Troscsanyi told reporters the same day.
Not all eastern European countries want to ditch the quota system, with Latvia’s Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma saying her country will adhere to past commitments while “very carefully evaluating each person” seeking to relocate to the Baltic nation.
Poland’s Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak, of the Law & Justice party that won last month’s election after promising to take the country out of the “EU mainstream,” recalled the Nazi destruction of Warsaw during World War II when asked about German politicians’ comments suggesting Poland should show more solidarity in trying to resolve the migrant crisis.
“This is another example of German arrogance,” Blaszczak told TVN24 on Tuesday. “We are in Warsaw, which was destroyed by Germans agents, who murdered 50,000 people, including women and children” during a raid on its Wola district in 1944, he said.