EU may levy heavy fines against member states that defy directives on migrants
James McAuley, WaPo, May 3 2016
PARIS — In a blatant slap at the EU’s authority, Hungary’s Supreme Court on Tuesday paved the way for a referendum defying an EU order to resettle tens of thousands of migrants among member states. The proposed popular vote has long been pushed by Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, whose outspoken anti-immigrant platform and distaste for EU leadership are well documented. The referendum would be a direct affront to Brussels boxtops and to Angela Merkel, who have been pushing for a permanent system of mandatory migrant quotas across the EU. The Hungarian vote is expected to be held this year, and its results will be valid if voter turnout exceeds 50%. When they vote, Hungarians will answer the following question:
Do you want the EU to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary even without the consent of parliament?
This is ultimately a policy question, but Orban has said before that voting “no” is a vote for something far bigger, namely Hungary’s independence. As the EU continues to grapple with the migrant crisis, such challenges also raise the question of how the organization deals with renegade member states that openly defy directives from Brussels. In response to insubordination like Hungary’s proposed plebiscite, the EU may levy heavy penalties for governments that do not comply with directives for the resettlement of migrants. There have been reports that these fines could be as steep as €250k per migrant, but EU boxtops would not confirm the exact amount to the WaPo. Details are scheduled to be revealed in Brussels on Wednesday. In a Europe already ridden with internal divisions over what to do with migrants, many fear the consequences of a financial penalty clause. Marc Pierini, a former career EU diplomat and Brussels-based policy analyst, said:
It’s going to create as many problems as it tries to solve. It will build up recrimination against the EU, or “against Brussels” as they say in other capitals. I don’t see it as a very sound piece of policy. In my view, it’s no more than an additional sign of extreme nervousness.
The referendum in Hungary is only the latest grievance against the EU. After years of economic stagnation across the continent and a wave of terrorist attacks in 2015 whose execution largely depended on loopholes within the EU security apparatus, many member states grew frustrated with EU bureaucracy even before more than 1 million migrants arrived on the continent last year. Most notably, perhaps, Britain will vote next month on whether to exit the EU altogether, a move commonly referred to as “Brexit.” The Jun 23 vote is the culmination of a long campaign of British dissatisfaction with European bureaucracy and leadership. Whether it succeeds or fails, Brexit has ultimately established a precedent that many in Brussels view as dangerous: the option of saying goodbye. In an already fraught climate, the migrant crisis presents another massive problem for Europe to solve collectively in the months and years ahead, and one that will require significant financial and material investment to solve. The plans that EU leaders will announce Wednesday are in theory a road map out of the migrant crisis, but they are also an attempt to maintain control of an increasingly unruly and even unwary (this is ‘Faschingstein Consensus’ code for “the bear will eat you” – RB) continent. Pierini says:
It’s a very tense moment in the commission. Tomorrow is the day when you have to put down on paper the price for handing off the refugee crisis.