The death of Schengen is not what Viktor Orbán wants…

This has been an annus horribilis for the European Union. In the spring and summer, the euro looked set to crumble, as Greece devolved into political turmoil, teetering on the brink of Grexit and as deep divisions within the eurozone emerged about how to deal with the debt crisis and whether to even salvage the unity of the euro. As often happens in the EU, the common currency’s unity was saved at the very last minute–in the middle of the night as key players were about to throw in the towel–thanks in large part to the insistence of the Polish President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.

It’s possible that the Schengen Area, which until now has offered passport-free travel among 26 countries in Europe, will also be salvaged in the last minute and perhaps the current crisis will actually lead to deeper European integration. The EU does, after all, have a history of strengthening integration as a result of crisis. And even politicians like Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has spent much of the year lambasting the West (which he feels is in decline and is ruled by out-of-touch liberals), need the Schengen Area to survive. The Hungarian Spectrum published a piece on this yesterday, quoting Hungary’s Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, on the possibility that a handful of western European countries might create their own Schengen Zone, while leaving everyone else out in the cold. “Those countries want to create an inner circle for themselves,” said Mr. Szijjártó angrily of an idea raised by the Netherlands of creating an area of passport-free travel among France, Germany, Austria and the Benelux countries. As the Hungarian Spectrum points out, the idea of ending the Schengen Area as we know it and of no more border-free travel is problematic in Hungary for both psychological and economic reasons.

The Záhony border crossing between Hungary and Ukraine. This represents one of the EU's external borders, which Hungarian border security patrols and protects and where you will come into contact with Hungarian border guards and customs officials. Photo: MTI.

The Záhony border crossing between Hungary and Ukraine. This represents one of the EU’s external borders, which Hungarian border security patrols and protects and where you will come into contact with Hungarian border guards and customs officials. Photo: MTI.

The former Eastern bloc was closed in with barbed wire fences prior to 1989, blocked off from the West. Hungarians had to ask for state permission to travel not only to the West, but even to neighbouring countries like Romania, where  they may have had family in the Hungarian-majority areas of Transylvania. Visiting family even in neighbouring communist Romania entailed exhausting bureaucratic red tape and the trip could not be made frequently.

Benjamin Tallis is with Prague’s Institute of International Relations. Speaking to Radio Prague on the possibilities of the demise of the Schengen Zone, he noted:

“Being excluded from the Schengen Area is an indication of Europe of different speeds. Certainly Czech people and others in the Visegrad Four – in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – have gained an awful lot from being in Schengen, from the feeling of being part of Europe and the feeling of being part of the EU, and being able to exercise one of the real benefits that people can feel on a daily basis. But also from the sense of belonging this provides. So there’s definitely a danger of creating a sort of hierarchy of belonging, a two-tier Europe. But we also have to ask where that slap in the face is coming from. It’s coming from an unwillingness to share the burdens as well as the benefits of being members of Schengen.”

That last sentence is in reference to proposed quotas that the European Commission has been trying to establish, in order to divide some of the refugees among member states in a more equitable manner, rather than have Germany bear the burden almost on its own. Usually quarrelsome Eastern European countries were able to agree on one thing: they did not want mandatory quotas and really did not want to accept any of the refugees from Syria and elsewhere. We already know of Hungary’s virulently populist Fidesz government, but Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s ruling Smer party – although left-wing – is no more welcoming than Budapest. And Poland recently elected the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice Party to power, which sees Viktor Orbán’s regime as a role model.

The rationale behind Mr. Orbán’s support for the Schengen Area and borderless travel is also economic. Hungary is the world’s 40th largest export economy–Hungarian exports are worth over $100 billion per year. Hungary remains an important manufacturer of cars (this sector of the economy is worth over $6 billion), as well as vehicle parts and pharmaceuticals. One quarter of all Hungarian exports are to Germany, while Italy, Austria and France are also important trade partners. Together, these four countries account  for 45% of Hungary’s exports and this business is strongly boosted by the Schengen Agreement. Tariff barriers and lengthy waits at international borders for trucks carrying Hungarian goods would drastically increase the cost of doing business for many companies operating in Hungary.

Mr. Orbán has been a supporter of expanding the European Union with new members–on Friday, he declared that Hungary would support Macedonia’s admission to the EU. He also pointed out that “if Schengen dies, then walls and fences will rise and border checks will re-appear in places, where these have not existed.”

For all his nationalist, anti-liberal and anti-western tough talk, Mr. Orbán knows what side his bread is buttered on.

8 Comments

  1. Charlie London says:

    Orban’s unilateral wall has sown the psychological seed of thinking barriers solve problems. And they do – because other countries will act in concert – regardless of hurting Hungary.

    Szijjártó’s bleating is pathetic – and he at least should realise that there is a consequence to your actions. You may allow yourself to take illegal insider trading actions in Mafia Hungary and get away with it (Queastor) – but other countries are going to work in their best interests too.

    But not like a prima donna selfishly putting self interest first, second and third.

    Working against the refugees has been done particularly against all the values of compassion and a united cause – even though a signatory to the 1952 convention – and even though the West helped Hungary in its hour of need in 1956.

    As you sow – so shall you reap.

    Go.

  2. Chris, I of course agree completely with the thrust of your article (and Éva’s in HS), but it’s not clear that re-introducing travel controls means re-introducing tariff-barriers.

  3. If they close the borders the way they planning, they practically can push any amount of migrants to the outskirt (countries) of the EU without risking their free move to the central area. Meanwhile, they still have the means to filter who will go where. Do they?

    Can Orban outsmart this maneuver of the EU? Is this really still by the EU? Would his muscle flexing and trolling be enough for this? Does he have any friends who are willing to sincerely ally with him, and trust him? Does he have a plan what to do when the EU starts playing hard ball with him?

    As far as I can remember he killed off all the smart guys around him to replace them with dumb ass-kissers, does anybody left in the government who has brain?
    What’s the big plan? What does he want? Further muscle flexing and quitting the EU, trying to outsmart them, cracking under pressure?
    Caving in before their will and losing the game?

    What will happen to Hungary? What will happen to him? I believe he will secure the loot and will evacuate. An assassination attempt against him, poor guy is dead, the look alike goes into the coffin and get cremated quickly, and the smart boy will enjoy his new life somewhere else….. may be in Canada . 🙂 >>> 🙁

  4. It’s very difficult to tell, how many of the migrants are terrorist. I believe most of them are not terrorist in the classical meaning of the word. Simply Islam.

    I see the problem lying elsewhere. Even if they are not terrorist, they are very dangerous. They are all Muslims, they are all Allah, and Islam, and Quran fanatics who want to convert the world to Muslim, who know no mercy when it comes fulfill their mission. I don’t believe that Europeans or any other civilized nations could ever live together with them, share their fate or should ever put up with their terrible Sharia law and religion, and I don’t even understand why we should or try to assimilate them or living together with them further on after so many painful bitter experiences.

    I believe that love, compassion, humanitarian help and tolerance is one of the greatest achievement of our societies. Without it developed societies would decompose, something for which we have suffered so much in our history, but it should not be equal with stupidity and irresponsibility.

    We should work hard and eliminate discrimination and help even the Ebola sufferers but it doesn’t mean we should invite them to our home and host them, instead putting them into the quarantine or we all will be dead.
    Those who act differently are not humanitarian but fools or a criminals who refuse to bear the responsibility for the damage that these migrants cause to other societies.

    If someone says we are responsible for the refugees and migrants, I say, yes, but we are responsible for our nation, for the life of the indigenous Europeans, for the life of our children, too. We are responsible for the ethnic minority, such as the white race that is dying out and is presently only the 14% of the world population and according to predictions will not be more than 10% in a hundred year.

  5. Richard, it is good to see that you can actually think clearly if the subject is not the backing of the Orban-bashing chorus (at least in the case of migrant crisis you can).

  6. Video 8:09

    “Where did they refuge from?! Fword. Others refuge from them! Wherever they show up in the world we must refuge from them!”

    True!
    1,369,578 viewer on Youtube.

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