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Opinion

Opinion: The spirit of European unity - Just a pipe dream

Hungary has retracted its announcement that it would suspend EU refugee reception rules just one day after saying that it would. But Robert Schwartz says the damage has been immense.

The communal house of Europe is teetering precariously and in danger of collapsing altogether. The rumbling began with Greece where the sweet dream of a common currency has become a living nightmare, complete with mountains of debt, broken promises, and cooked books. Brussels is cobbling solutions, but is obviously overwhelmed and essentially powerless.

And if that were not enough, now this - on Tuesday, Hungary announced that it would unilaterally, and indefinitely, suspend the so-called Dublin Regulation - though that statement has now been retracted.

The Dublin rules, which regulate asylum procedures and responsibilities among signatory countries, have been revised several times. All of the EU member states have partaken in this process, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Schwartz Robert Kommentarbild App

DW's Robert Schwartz

So far, so good. However, some EU border countries bear a heavier burden in the process due to their geographic location. The regulation has yet to stipulate a solidarity clause - because some powerful countries, such as Germany, have rejected such notions thus far.

Unacceptable proposition

So if desperate people from Syria or Africa do manage to get to Europe, they are required to fill out their asylum applications in the country in which they arrive first. If they move on and are apprehended, they will be sent back to that first country.

The result - overcrowded refugee camps in Spain and Italy. The Hungarian government fears that tens of thousands of refugees that travel through Serbia and Hungary on their way to Western Europe could eventually be sent back to them. And Hungary is desperately trying to avoid that situation. Yet, the way in which Budapest is attempting to suspend the Dublin regulations is reprehensible. The unilateral suspension of existing laws and treaties in a union that one voluntarily joined is contrary to the spirit of European unity in every sense.

True, there is a lack of solidarity, but one needs to speak about it. Where would we end up if every EU country threw out rules that it didn't like, whenever it saw fit? But this isn't the first time that Hungary and its populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban have embarked upon such a questionable course of action. After all, it is Orban we have to thank for the ridiculous concept of "illiberal democracy." And just last week he commissioned a four-meter-high wall along the Serbian border to keep refugees out of his country. At the same time, he dreams of a "Greater Hungary" within a unified Europe. He does all of this with impunity.

No precedent

There is no question that countries like Greece and Hungary weaken the EU. But they aren't the only ones. A longer list would also have to include Romania, where for the last three years, power hungry Prime Minister Victor Ponta and the parliamentary majority that he controls have repeatedly attempted to block the judicial and legal system. And Bulgaria built walls against refugees long ago, Spain too.

Now it seems that Brussels has put its foot down and Budapest has buckled under to pressure from the EU. It was high time to do something, to avoid letting Hungary's behavior set a precedent. Nevertheless, the EU seems to be degenerating ever more into a special kind of chat club, in which thousands of regulations are discussed and passed, but to which few members abide. This is not how we envisioned European unity.

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