Genesis: Historical researchReference:
Peshkin V.M. — Problems in the Relations of the Visegrad Group States with the European Union in 2014-2022. // Genesis: Historical research. – 2023. – ¹ 2. – P. 10 - 26. DOI: 10.25136/2409-868X.2023.2.39783 EDN: HLFOEO URL: https://en.nbpublish.com/library_read_article.php?id=39783
Problems in the Relations of the Visegrad Group States with the European Union in 2014-2022.
Abstract: The subject of the study is the historical conditions in which the disloyal attitude of the Visegrad Group towards the solutions proposed by the EU began to grow during the specified period of time. The analysis of the migration crisis, which has aggravated political, economic, financial, social, and religious problems in the EU countries, is carried out. The EU's efforts to overcome it have become the basis for strengthening the role of right-wing parties in the Quartet. The role of Hungary, which represents itself as a defender of "Europe as a continent for Europeans", which has pursued the most active restrictive migration policy, is considered. The plans of the leadership of Germany and Austria for the management of migration flows, reflecting the ambitions of Berlin and Vienna for the transit and reception of refugees, are presented. The "central" line of Brussels on overcoming the migration crisis is being studied. The tools used by V4 to overcome the migration crisis caused by the vulnerability of the Quartet countries to refugee flows are considered. The article also examines criticism from the "quartet" of the process of overcoming the migration crisis, which saw in the measures proposed by Brussels a threat to the national identity of its small states and a sign of disrespect for the interests of small states in the EU. In general, the migration crisis has resulted in the strengthening of far-right parties in Hungary and Poland, the radicalization of public opinion, which contradicts the main goals of European integration. Thus, the internal political development in some countries of the "Visegrad Four" has actually become a new noticeable element of confrontation with the European Union. Hungary and Poland reacted extremely painfully to criticism of the EU, appealing for support to partners in the Visegrad Group, to other countries where right-wing and conservative parties are also popular (Italy, Austria). As a counteraction, the EU leadership raised the issue of a threat to EU values in Poland and Hungary and considered the possibility of using a mechanism to influence countries that do not respect the values of the European Union.
Keywords:migration crisis, Schengen Agreements, quota system, eurosceptic sentiment, Frontex, European asylum system, transit countries, solidarity crisis, readmissions of migrants, EU border protection
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Over the years since joining the European Union, the Visegrad States have actually become full-fledged members of the organization, in most cases loyal to the solutions proposed at the multilateral level.
However, the migration crisis, which has aggravated political, economic, financial, social, religious problems in the EU countries, as well as the activities of the EU governing bodies to overcome it, caused an increase in Eurosceptic sentiments in the Visegrad Four states.
The relevance of this study is due to the fact that the direct consequence of the migration crisis was the strengthening of far-right parties in Hungary and Poland, the radicalization of public opinion, which contradicts the main goals of European integration. Thus, the internal political development in some countries of the Visegrad Quartet has actually become a new noticeable element of confrontation with the European Union. Hungary and Poland react extremely painfully to criticism of the EU, at the pan-European level they are looking for support from both partners in the Visegrad Group and other countries where right-wing and conservative parties are also popular (Italy, Austria). As a counteraction measure, the EU leadership raises the issue of a threat to EU values in Poland and Hungary and is considering the possibility of using mechanisms to influence countries that do not respect the values of the European Union.
The aim of the study is to study the activities of the EU and the Visegrad Group during the migration crisis of 2015-2016, the changes in the internal policy of the Visegrad Group caused by this process, the activation of radical parties in the V4 countries.
The stated goal will be achieved by performing the following tasks:
- study of the Visegrad Group's approaches to overcoming the migration crisis;
- analysis of the growing contradictions between the V4 participants and the EU leadership, due to the difference in assessments of the prospects for overcoming the migration crisis, measures for the distribution of refugee flows;
- study of the radicalization of the internal political life of the "four" countries in the period 2014-2022, the growth of the influence of extreme right-wing parties.
The novelty of the scientific research in the framework of this article is expressed in the study of the activities of V4 to develop its own measures to counter the migration crisis. In particular, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary decided to create a joint Mechanism for responding to migration crises (MCRM), aimed at creating new or strengthening existing ties between the participating States, state institutions responsible for migration.
MCRM sought to find effective solutions for better management of migration and the fair asylum system, primarily through joint V4 actions in three areas: intra-European cooperation, information exchange and external dimension.
The methodological basis for writing the article was following the principle of historicism, applying a system-structural approach to the study of political, economic, and other factors that caused the Visegrad group's response to the migration crisis. Analysis and synthesis were applied from general scientific methods in the course of the work, which helped to isolate the measures of individual countries of the "quartet", and then recreate a holistic view of the overall activities of V4 to overcome the migration crisis and the resulting increase in the influence of right-wing parties.
The sources used in writing this work can be divided into two groups – 1) information materials of the European Economic Community and the European Union, as well as documents of the Visegrad Group itself. 2) Scientific research published by various foreign scientific institutes; articles by Russian (A. Kuznetsov, G. Makarenko) and foreign authors (H. Bauerova, A. Dembakh), as well as publications in Russian and foreign media.
In the modern period of development, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia continue to coordinate their positions when discussing the most important issues in the EU institutions, despite the decrease in opportunities to influence the vote in the EU Council in accordance with the 2014 reform. The interests of the V4 states most often coincided in the coordination of the budget and multi-year financial framework, expenditures on agricultural policy, in the promotion and implementation of foreign policy initiatives.
However, the crisis phenomena in the EU and political processes in the four countries have caused an increase in Eurosceptic sentiments. Since 2014, the main issue that caused the confrontation with Brussels and the additional consolidation of the Visegrad Four has been the migration crisis in the EU, which caused the desire to prevent the influx of migrants contrary to the central line at the level of the European Union.
Migration flows to the European Union increased significantly with the beginning of the "Arab Spring" in 2011 and the civil war in Syria in 2013. In 2015, the number of refugees in the EU exceeded one million people (in 2014, for comparison, 280,000 people legally arrived in Europe). According to some reports, the total number of migrants in the European Union (as well as Switzerland and Norway) has reached 1.3 million people. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex, which tracks the various ways in which migrants arrive in Europe, says about 1 million 800 thousand people who arrived at the border and crossed it in 2015
During the acute phase of the crisis, Hungary, which is on the shortest path of refugees and migrants, whose destination was mainly Germany, suffered the most from the Visegrad states. The 175-kilometer Serbian-Hungarian border became one of the most tense borders of the European Union, where a large proportion of citizens of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, who made their way from Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to Hungary, accumulated.
From January 2015 to mid-September 2015, according to some estimates, more than 190 thousand illegal migrants made their way through the Hungarian-Serbian border. This was the reason why the Hungarian authorities decided to tighten the legislation on illegal border crossing and to build a fence with barbed wire on the Hungarian-Serbian border in the summer of 2015 (and at their own expense, having been refused EU funding), which caused criticism from the European Union and led to a change in migration routes.
Budapest, accordingly, is trying to pursue in fact the most active restrictive migration policy, while emphasizing the goal of protecting Hungary and Europe from immigrants. According to the Hungarian authorities, we are dealing with a wave of migrants, not refugees, as they arrive in Hungary from safe transit countries. Prime Minister Orban said he wants to preserve "Europe as a continent for Europeans, and Hungary as a country of Hungarians." He suggested that there is a direct link between immigration and terrorism, rising unemployment and crime.
The resolute position of the Hungarian government of V. Orban entered into a dispute, in particular, with Germany, which declared its readiness to accept refugees, as well as with Austria, which, in turn, declared its readiness to provide refugees with transit to Germany. The Hungarian authorities insisted that those fleeing the territories covered by military operations should be considered refugees only in the first safe state where they reach. If they go further, then they should be treated as economic migrants. Austria and Germany have also agreed to accept those migrants (from Syria) who have not registered in the first country of residence in the EU, thereby agreeing to derogations from the provisions of the European asylum system (the so-called Dublin II rule, according to which refugees must be returned to the country where they were first registered). In turn, Hungary regarded the statements of the German authorities about their readiness to accept refugees as an irresponsible incentive to illegally cross EU borders.
The situation with migrants in Hungary, meanwhile, only convinced the government of the correctness of the position. In early September, thousands of migrants gathered at the train station in Budapest. The Hungarian government has said it is trying to enforce EU legislation (the Dublin Regulation), which states that refugees must seek asylum in the first EU country they enter. However, the migrants wanted to get asylum in Germany, taking into account that now Germany will begin to accept more refugees after the decision of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees of August 21, 2015 to satisfy applications for asylum even from people who had previously applied for refugee status in another EU country (Germany previously deported refugees "back" to the first country). For four days, the migrants camped near the station and were in a standoff with the police. In the end, hundreds of people took the motorway to the Austrian border, Austria and Germany agreed to allow migrants to cross their borders, and the Hungarian government abandoned attempts to register migrants and sent buses to take them to the border. These events were also marked by a private initiative called the "refugee convoy": a convoy of 140 cars of Austrian and German activists left for Hungary to pick up migrants. As a result, on September 4-6, more than 14 thousand migrants crossed the Hungarian-Austrian border. In the following weeks, small groups of migrants were also sent to Germany via Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and there were also attempts to illegally cross the Polish border. However, it should be noted that due to the sharp increase in the migration flow of the surge in mid-September, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere was forced to announce that the country was introducing temporary controls at the border with Austria to limit the flow of refugees.
Brussels' "central" line on overcoming the migration crisis was based on several key ideas. Firstly, the strengthening of the terrorist threat has forced Brussels and all the countries of the European Union to give priority to ensuring external and internal security and to seek more full-fledged coordination between EU countries in this area, strengthening control at external borders. Great hopes were pinned on the Frontex Agency for the Protection of the External Borders of the EU, which has been functioning since 2005. Secondly, despite the pressure from individual EU countries increasing as the crisis develops in favor of a complete revision of the Schengen Agreements and the rejection of the principle of freedom of movement, Brussels rejected this decision. Freedom of movement of people, goods, capital and services is the most important achievement of European construction, and the rejection of these principles will set the integration process back many years. Thirdly, Brussels proposed to introduce mandatory quotas for the accommodation of migrants for all EU countries (the first quota proposal was in May 2015, actively supported by Germany and Italy). Their number depended on the size of the population and the level of economic development, as well as on what kind of migration burden a particular state already carries.
While the EU was looking for a solution to the problem that would suit all members, the Visegrad Group held a summit on migration issues on September 4, 2015 in Prague at the level of heads of government, at which it expressed support for Hungary and proposed to take a number of measures to strengthen control over the external borders of the Schengen countries, expand control measures over migration flows, and, if possible,, to solve the problem of mass migration outside the EU borders. The Prime Ministers of the four countries declared their full readiness to make further contributions to the EU's joint actions in a number of areas.
Firstly, the expansion of assistance with special attention to transit and origin countries was indicated, which would include assistance to particularly vulnerable groups (for example, orphans, victims, families with children); assistance to countries with a significant contingent of refugees (Turkey, Jordan, Iraq/Kurdistan, Lebanon, as well as transit countries in the Western Balkans); support for expanding cooperation with EU candidate countries (including potential ones) in the context of accession negotiations; relevant stabilization projects and programs.
Secondly, it was about the provision of specialists and technical equipment to protect the external borders of the EU (including the Frontex mechanism, as well as the most vulnerable member States on a bilateral basis); the procedure for granting asylum and international protection; assistance in border protection and migration management in the Western Balkans.
Thirdly, strengthening measures to combat traffickers and smugglers at the national and EU levels, as well as continuing support for the international coalition fighting Daesh in Iraq and Syria as a form of addressing the root causes of migration flows.
However, at the same time, the representatives of the Visegrad States expressed their conviction that the key elements of the EU's overall approach for the coming months should include, in particular, effective control and protection of the EU's external borders; a functioning registration system and an effective return policy; maintaining the voluntary nature of EU solidarity measures so that each Member State could draw on its experience, best practices and available resources. In connection with the latter, it was stressed that any proposal leading to the introduction of a mandatory and permanent quota for solidarity measures would be unacceptable. In addition, the EU's common approach, noted in the statement of the Prime Ministers, should include intensifying cooperation on the problem of illegal migration with the international community, in particular with the United Nations, the African Union and the League of Arab States, and on resolving the situation in Libya and the Middle East and with other global players, including the United States of America. and the Russian Federation.
In a general letter to the Prime Minister of Italy, the V4 countries proposed to separate economic migration and refugees, and before they enter the EU territory; to invest in EU activities on the southern borders of Libya, in the establishment, protection and creation of human conditions in hot spots outside the EU, in the training of Libyan Coast Guard forces, in strengthening the capabilities of the European Refugee Support Office.
The automatic redistribution of migrants proposed by the EU Council in September 2015 in accordance with the quota system (which was supposed to be in effect for two years) was rejected by the Visegrad States. They saw it as an "attraction factor" for migrants, a threat to the national identity of their small states and a sign of disrespect for the interests of small states in the EU. The Quartet leaders noted that any collective decisions in the EU should be made on the principles of consent of all participating countries.
As the problems escalated, Brussels paid more and more attention to expanding cooperation with external partners on whom migration flows depended. A special role was assigned to Turkey, on whose territory by the end of 2015 there were 3 million people. Syrian refugees. It was decided to allocate her 3 billion. euros for the settlement of migrants on its territory. Although the EU mobilized significant forces to resolve the difficult situation, the measures taken did not allow to completely reverse the negative trends. Quotas for the distribution of refugees were eventually not introduced, despite the fact that in the autumn of 2015 the corresponding decision was made by the EU Council. This idea with quotas, promoted by the European Commission, was criticized not only by the Visegrad Group countries, but also by the UK, Spain, and the Baltic states. A number of countries have even temporarily restored border control. The problem of the distribution of refugees throughout the EU has thus developed into a crisis of solidarity within the EU.
On September 22, 2015, the EU Interior Ministers at a meeting within the framework of the Council of the European Union voted by a qualified majority for the resettlement of 120,000 refugees from Greece and Italy throughout the European Union (Hungary was originally planned among these countries, but voted against). The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia voted against such a quota plan, but their decision was rejected, the European Commission proposed to make this scheme mandatory for EU member states.
It is noteworthy that Poland, despite the joint position with the Visegrad countries on quotas, supported this system. Poland's agreement with the quota system indicated, according to experts, the informal nature of the agreements, which were based on joint meetings (Polish Prime Minister Eva Kopacz was nominated for her post after former Prime Minister Donald Tusk was elected president of the European Council. The Civic Platform party, which was represented by both politicians, belongs to the group of pro-European or Euro-optimistic parties). Polish Prime Minister E. Kopacz eventually referred to solidarity with the EU and the need to perceive the decision at the European level as an obligation for the member state.
However, after the opposition conservative and rather eurosceptic Law and Justice party came to power following the October 2015 elections, Polish rhetoric returned to the common V4 platform, that is, to the rejection of mandatory quotas. Taking into account the strong anti-migrant rhetoric of the new leadership (Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and party Chairman J. Kaczynski), it seems natural for Poland to support retroactively the complaint filed by Hungary and Slovakia against the mandatory quota system and the form of this decision in September 2015
The EU Court eventually dismissed this claim in September 2017. The Court's decision stated that the treaty on the functioning of the European Union allows institutions to take all preliminary measures in order to respond effectively and quickly to an emergency situation caused by a sudden influx of internally displaced persons. And when taking this kind of measures, a deviation from EU legislation is allowed, since these measures are temporary. "The Court also points out that, since the contested decision is not a legislative act, its adoption did not require the participation of national parliaments and open discussion and voting in the EU Council (these requirements apply only to legislative acts)," the court verdict noted.
Despite this rejection, the Visegrad countries continued to insist on the voluntary nature of admission, and Hungary and Poland actually boycotted the implementation of quotas, causing criticism and threats of sanctions from the central authorities of the European Union. Even though Slovakia eventually agreed that it would accept a certain number of refugees under the mandatory quota system, and the Czech Republic indicated intentions to negotiate on this issue with the European Commission in order to avoid fines, the position on the fundamental issue of the V4 states has not changed. In 2018, the Quartet countries, in the statement of the Ministers of Internal Affairs of June 26, expressed their previous position on the migration problem and actually confirmed their rejection of the quota system, noting that they do not consider any system of automatic distribution of asylum seekers among Member States as the only acceptable measure of solidarity, since it only leads to uncertainty and additional security risks, and also generates secondary movements. In 2020, as a result, the European Commission, against the background of decreasing migration pressure compared to the previous period, the continuing opposition of dissenting countries and the anti-migrant mood in societies that allows the relevant political forces in these countries to retain power, eventually abandoned this idea.
Returning to the joint position of the Visegrad Group, it should be noted that the terrorist attacks in Europe related to migrants also gave it additional conviction in the goals of its migration policy. At the meeting of Prime Ministers on December 3, 2015, solidarity with France was expressed over the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, and it was also stressed that it is necessary to move forward in strengthening borders, resolving conflicts in Syria and Libya, and eradicating the root causes of migration through the allocation of sufficient financial resources within the EU budget of the European Union. At that time, the heads of government indicated that the financial costs of migration affairs should not affect other important European areas, growth-oriented instruments, such as the cohesion policy.
At subsequent summits, the topic of the migration crisis was raised repeatedly. At the V4 Prime Ministers' Meeting in Prague on February 15, 2016 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Visegrad Group cooperation. In the presence of the President of Macedonia (since 2019 it has been called Northern Macedonia) and the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, the heads of Government of the Visegrad Group countries exchanged views on migration problems faced by Europe and the Balkan region, in particular. They expressed their full support for the measures taken at the level of the European Union to better protect external borders, including strengthening cooperation with third countries, while reiterating their negative position on the mechanism of automatic permanent resettlement and emphasizing Turkey's role in curbing migration flows. In this context, they also reiterated their long-standing support for the process of accession to the EU of Macedonia, other countries of the Western Balkans, as well as the expansion of the Schengen area for those who fulfill the necessary conditions.
On March 18, 2016, an agreement was signed between the European Union and Turkey, which was designed to reduce the number of migrants entering the EU via the Mediterranean route. According to the agreement, all illegal migrants who were denied asylum by the Greek authorities should have been sent back to Turkey. For agreeing to accept migrants from the EU, Turkey will receive confirmation of additional funding until 2019 in the amount of 3 billion. euros in addition to the 3 billion agreed at the end of 2015. euro. As part of the deal, the EU will also resume negotiations on Turkey's accession to the European Union, suspended on the initiative of France in 2007.
The conclusion of an agreement with Turkey did not immediately ease the migration crisis. In the documents of the Visegrad Quartet, attention continued to be paid to effective checks of who really needs help from the arrivals, and who is simply trying to improve their economic status (i.e., who is really a refugee and who is an economic migrant). In addition, at the EU level, four States continued to oppose the process of actually forced "resettlement", the idea was promoted that migration policy should be based on the principle of flexible solidarity, allowing Member States to make decisions on specific forms of participation and contribution, taking into account their experience and potential. In addition, the resettlement mechanism itself should be voluntary.
At the end of 2016, a number of initiatives were put forward by the V4 countries to ease the migration crisis. In the Warsaw joint statement of the Interior Ministers on the creation of a mechanism for responding to the migration crisis of November 21, 2016, a number of actions were outlined to reduce the influx of illegal migrants and improve control over the management of mixed migration flows.
First of all, in order to eliminate the causes of illegal migration to the EU, it is necessary to provide assistance to third countries receiving a large number of migrants; to support the effective processing of asylum applications, including by solving the problem of abuse of international protection for the purpose of unjustified illegal entry into the EU; as well as to improve the return and readmission rates of migrants who do not have the right to international protection in the EU.
The assessment of the EU's experience in combating the influx of illegal migrants in 2015 and 2016 was characterized as ineffective in the issue of solutions providing for the mandatory resettlement of migrants on the basis of special solutions or a permanent mechanism. The EU has demonstrated its inability to implement such measures, and their introduction has even led to unnecessary disagreements between member States. The distribution of migrants in EU countries that are not subject to international protection is defined as an additional attractive factor for illegal immigrants, therefore, from the point of view of the Visegrad countries, it is necessary to abandon the mandatory resettlement of illegal migrants or a similar permanent mechanism that becomes part of the EU's response to the migration crisis, and act in accordance with the provisions of European law to protect external EU borders, reducing illegal migration and preserving the integrity of the Schengen area. This policy framework should take into account, respectively, the situation in specific Member States, including their difficulties and limitations, as well as their capabilities and available resources.
The Interior Ministers announced in their statement the creation of a structure that will have to strengthen effective coordination between the relevant institutions in order to jointly respond to the relevant challenges. Taking into account the results of the discussions held earlier (in the Polish city of Yugowice in August and in Prague in October 2016) and in order to contribute to a common solution at the EU level, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary decided to create a joint Mechanism for responding to Migration crises (MCRM) aimed at creating new or strengthening existing ones relations between the participating States, State institutions responsible for migration.
The MCRM should create a network for the exchange of information, allow to identify current needs, identify priorities for coordinated actions, which will also help to provide training of experts suitable for EU activities in the affected member States, as well as in third countries hosting a significant number of migrants. Representatives of the four countries also pledged to create coordination centers and appoint coordinators responsible for directing the work on the development of a Mechanism for responding to migration crises. The Coordinators, in turn, should develop a detailed action plan for the development of the MCRM and submit it to the participating States by the end of March 2017. The work of this Mechanism as a whole will be coordinated by Poland, while it was also proclaimed that the MCRM will be open to all EU Member States willing to participate and cooperate to achieve the goals set out in this statement.
MCRM strives to find effective solutions for better management of migration and the fair asylum system, primarily through joint V4 actions in three areas: intra-European cooperation, information exchange and external dimension. The analysis of migration data, which is a basic condition for assessing the migration situation, is also supported by the V4 Joint Migration Analytical Center, also based in Poland.
However, despite ambitious plans, it is necessary to agree with the opinion of experts that this Mechanism, resembling an informal forum that duplicates the activities of EU structures, will remain only a limited regional initiative and will not have a more significant impact on solving the migration crisis in the pan-European context. This is confirmed by the extremely scarce information about its activities provided by the Visegrad countries. In the program of the Czech presidency of the Visegrad Group for 2019-2020, "V4 Reasonable Europe", cooperation within the framework of the Mechanism for Responding to Migration Crises was simply mentioned in the context of planned activities for interaction between the Ministries of the Interior. There was no mention of him in the brief report of the Czech presidency. There was also no mention of MCRM in the report of the Polish presidency in 2020-21.
The migration crisis, in general, has exacerbated political, economic, financial, social, and religious problems in the EU countries, which have affected internal security. The terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, Nice in 2015-2016 demonstrated a high degree of vulnerability of open Western societies in this regard. The debt and migration crises experienced affected public sentiment in the UK, largely provoking its exit from the European Union (Brexit).
A direct consequence of the migration crisis was the strengthening of extreme right-wing parties in the EU members. The radicalization of public opinion, which has been growing in recent years, contradicts the main goals of European integration, which was aimed primarily at appeasing European countries that had been at war with each other for centuries, preventing European governments from slipping into populism and extremism and repeating the negative experience of world wars. The definition of models of internal political development in some countries of the Visegrad Four has actually become a new noticeable element of confrontation with the European Union. Here we are talking, first of all, about Hungary and Poland, which have faced criticism of their domestic political reforms from Brussels, which regards innovations in these countries as a "rollback from democracy."
In Hungary, for example, already in 2011. (the following year after V. Orban came to the post of Prime Minister in 2010), a new Constitution was adopted, which spoke about the idea of the unity of the Hungarian nation, responsibility for the fate of five million Hungarians outside the country, Christianity as the basis of Hungarian statehood and the traditional family - the union of men and women – as the main value of Hungarian society. In addition, some adjustments were made to the system of public administration (presidential control over the Central Bank was established, and the possibilities of controlling the judicial system were expanded by reducing the permissible age of judges from 70 to 62 years, which made it possible to partially replace the composition with candidates more loyal to the current government). A separate law expanded the state's control over the media.
Brussels saw this, naturally, as a threat to the growth of nationalist influence and authoritarianism. Using aid programs as an instrument of pressure on Hungary, the EU managed to achieve a relaxation of the provisions on the Central Bank and the courts.
However, the line to strengthen state control over socio-political processes was continued. In particular, laws were passed restricting the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with foreign funding on the territory of Hungary, which resulted in a confrontation with the American financier and philanthropist of Hungarian origin George Soros. It was he who allocated the largest funds through his Open Society Foundation to Hungarian organizations, including those helping migrants. And the influx of foreign migrants is seen as a growing threat that requires serious efforts on the part of the Government. In September 2017, in one of his speeches at the Association of Christian Intellectuals (K?SZ), V. Orban announced: "Today, the program of turning into a country of immigrants is presented by a plan that is usually called the Soros plan. This is an action plan that describes exactly how and in what way the resisting, non-immigrant countries of Central Europe should be transformed into countries of immigrants".
Accordingly, D. Soros was declared the culprit in facilitating migration, which allegedly influenced the EU policy allowing refugees to enter Europe. Soros is persona non grata in Hungary for helping NGOs in their attempt to support migrants. In order to fight Soros and eradicate his values in Hungary, the government also began to oppose the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, founded by the billionaire in 1991 and initially accredited in New York State. In April 2017, Hungarian legislation was amended to require universities to report to the Hungarian authorities and have campuses in their country of origin. Thus, CEU turned out to be a university that violates the law: it is officially registered in the USA, operates according to programs approved in the USA and does not have campuses there. The conflict was accompanied by mass protests of students in support of CEU.
In addition, in 2018, the Hungarian Parliament adopted additional laws called "Stop Soros" in the media (limiting, for example, NGO support for migrants, strengthening control over them, restricting the movement of illegal immigrants around the country, criminalizing organized assistance to them, etc.). The confrontation with the Hungarian authorities eventually ended not in favor of Soros' structures. In August 2018, the Open Society Foundation founded by Soros moved its office to Berlin, and in December 2018 decided to move most of its activities to Vienna Central European University.
The EU's response to Hungary's policy was the adoption in September 2018 in the European Parliament of the so–called Sargentini report (Judith Sargentini is a member of the European Parliament from the Dutch Greens), where Hungary is criticized for infringement of freedoms and discrimination. With 448 votes in favor, the European Parliament decided for the first time to initiate the so-called process under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, citing concerns about the independence of the judiciary, corruption, freedom of speech, academic freedom, the rights of minorities and migrants and other issues (197 deputies opposed the proposal, 48 abstained). The sanctions procedure under this article could provide for the possibility of depriving Hungary of the right to vote in European institutions, for example, in the Council of the EU. However, such a decision would require the consent of a qualified majority (with 22 out of 27 votes in the EU Council), which would hardly be achieved.
Similar actions were taken by the EU a year earlier and against Poland, only by the European Commission, initiating proceedings under Article 7 for the first time, citing concerns about the government's influence on the judicial system and other issues of the rule of law. In Poland, in 2016, the first law-populist government was formed, headed by the leader of the Law and Justice Party. His domestic political initiatives have also caused concern to the EU. In January 2016, a law was passed that granted the Ministry of Finance the right to change the charter and the composition of the leadership of state media. About 140 journalists were dismissed, and the decision of the new leadership of one of the state TV channels banned live broadcasts from opposition rallies. In the summer of 2017, under the law "On the Supreme Court", control over the appointment of judges was transferred to the Ministry of Justice and the Parliament. Officially, the law was aimed at fighting corruption, as well as updating and rejuvenating the composition of the court, but it was regarded in the EU as a violation of the norms of democracy – the criterion for the independence of judges. As a result, in November 2018, Poland, under pressure from the EU, refused to implement the reform, although some judges over 65 years old had already been dismissed. However, it should be noted that Poland considers many concessions to be tactical, demonstrating the non-recognition of the EU's right to conduct proceedings against violations of law and order in Poland.
In 2018, another "problematic" law was adopted – "On the Institute of National Memory" (in the media – "the law on the Holocaust"), which provided for criminal punishment for calling Nazi concentration camps located on the territory of Poland "Polish", as well as for claiming the involvement of Poles in crimes against Jews during World War II wars and for denying the crimes of Ukrainian nationalists. The criminal punishment was abolished under pressure from criticism from the EU and Israel. At the same time, the amendments to the law on the prohibition of propaganda of communism and other totalitarian system, which have been in force since the fall of 2017, providing for the possibility of demolishing monuments to Soviet soldiers, continue to operate, despite the violation of bilateral agreements and protests from Russia. The decision on each specific monument is made by local authorities, recommendations are given by the Institute of National Memory.
In general, both Hungary and Poland react extremely painfully to criticism of the EU, considering it through the prism of their experience of limited sovereignty as part of the socialist bloc. At the pan-European level, they are looking for support from both the Visegrad Group partners and other countries. As a rule, these are countries where right-wing and conservative parties are also popular (for example, Italy, Austria). As a result, the representatives of the states in the EU Council have not yet decided to vote on the threat to EU values in Poland and Hungary and refer the case to the European Council. A more real impact on countries that do not respect the values of the European Union is seen in other mechanisms, for example, in linking subsidies from the EU budget with an assessment of compliance with the principles of the rule of law.