Although most commentators are critical of the European Union’s handling of the flood of refugees, today I’m more optimistic that a viable solution will be found, which might not be to the liking of Viktor Orbán. I came to this conclusion after reading summaries of speeches at the second West Balkan Summit, held today in Vienna. These summits were originally designed to prepare the ground for the eventual EU membership of six so-called West Balkan states–Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, but today’s gathering was completely overshadowed by the migration crisis.
It was perhaps for that reason that HVG wanted to find out from the prime minister’s office why Viktor Orbán didn’t attend the summit. The prime minister’s office rightly pointed out that Hungary is not a Balkan country, and therefore “the question of the prime minister’s attending the summit hasn’t come up at all.” Subsequently, KlubRádió interpreted the information from the prime minister’s office in a way that implied that the invitation came but was turned down. The headline read: “Orbán didn’t go to the conference on migration” (Orbán nem ment el a menekültügyi konferenciára). We don’t know for sure whether Orbán was invited to the meeting or not, but I suspect that he was because, in addition to EU officials (Federica Mogherini, responsible for foreign affairs, Maroš Šefčovič, president of the Energy Union, and Johannes Hahn, in charge of enlargement negotiations), the German delegation (headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier), and the delegation of the host country of Austria (headed by Chancellor Werner Faymann and Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz), all the countries that have been most affected by the refugee crisis were present: Greece, Italy, Macedonia, and Serbia. Only Hungary was missing.
Why am I optimistic after reading reports on the summit? First of all, because the reports show that European politicians have started thinking about finding a common solution to the problem. Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian foreign minister, put forth one plan that would create “safe havens” in the migrants’ home countries and elsewhere where those seeking asylum would be under UN protection. Here the refugees would be processed and, once cleared, would be given safe passage to Europe. All 28 countries would have to take their share of the new immigrants. Although I see quite a few problems with these “safe havens” as envisaged by Kurz, this suggestion could be a beginning to a comprehensive handling of the crisis.
Prior to the conference, Kurz told the media that Austria currently has more refugees than Italy and Greece together. If other EU countries refuse to cooperate, Austria will have to tighten its borders to restrict free passage to and from Austria. Although Hungary and Bulgaria refused to accept any refugees under the quota system, it looks now as if the European Commission has returned to the idea. In fact, Commissioner Johannes Hahn told reporters that “we’re going to have a quota settlement approach, and in light of recent developments, I believe all 28 member states are now ready to accept and approve that.” Does this mean that Viktor Orbán behind the scenes changed his mind and that all his saber rattling is for home consumption only? It looks that way.
Chancellor Faymann had just finished telling the other European leaders that there was an urgent need to do something about human traffickers when the news came that at least 20 refugees but perhaps as many as 50 had been found dead in a truck just a few miles away.
The story as it is unfolding is complicated. The truck itself belonged at one point to a meat processing plant, Hyza, located close to Žilina/Zsolna in northern Slovakia. It was one of 21 trucks the company sold to somebody in Slovakia who then resold it to a Hungarian company in Budapest called MasterMobilKer Kft., established in 2011 but by now defunct. The first story, told by János Lázár himself, that the temporary license plate on the truck was issued to a Romanian citizen turned out to be false. Apparently, the man who went to the Hungarian equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles was a Hungarian who lives on a ranch near Kecskemét. The truck, however, began its journey in Budapest and crossed the Austro-Hungarian border sometime between Wednesday at 9 p.m. and Thursday at 6 a.m. Yet when the truck was found on the roadside this morning the bodies were already in an advanced stage of decomposition with bloody fluids dripping from the truck. Although the temperature has been very high, I find it difficult to believe that the people in that truck had been traveling for only for a few hours.
While Angela Merkel was “shaken by the awful news,” which “reminds us that we in Europe need to tackle the problem quickly and find a solution in the spirit of solidarity,” Fidesz’s reaction was accusatory. According to the party’s official statement, “this shocking event shows that the migrant policies of the European Union have failed.”
What would the official Hungarian solution be? It sounds simple enough: the borders must be properly defended and crossings should occur at designated places under the watchful eyes of the authorities. In this way such tragedies could be avoided. The problem is that it doesn’t matter whether the refugees come through designated “gates” of some sort or over the fence as long as they can fall prey to unscrupulous smugglers, who in this case, it seems, happened to be Hungarians. In fact, I heard György Kakuk, the author of El Camino de Balkan, say in one of his interviews that the smugglers he encountered in crossing the Serb-Hungarian border came from Hungary. Building fences will only increase the number of enterprising smugglers. Thus, the Hungarian government is, wittingly or unwittingly, encouraging men like the one(s) who is/are responsible for the horrendous crime discovered today. It would be time to sit down with others and come up with a better solution than the one the Hungarians devised on their own.