The EU’s Troublemakers and the Question of Immigration in The Context Of An Online E-mail Interview Experience

Gulay Icoz |

What This Blog Is Not About

The refugee crisis and the EU’s mismanagement of it have been what I have following up on since 2\015. Particularly the EU-Turkey migration deal (March 2016) and Poland and Hungary’s position on the EU’s refugee quota system (2017) have been under my radar.

Now that the Turkish side announced to have suspended the readmission agreement, upon the European Council’s decision to impose sanction on Turkey over its drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, which may have expanded towards the west of Cyprus and northeast of Cyprus.

While however Hungary and Poland maintain their anti-immigration positions since 2017 when the EU introduced a quota system to relocate asylum seekers among the EU Member States for processing of refugee claims. It was then mainly Hungary and Poland that have refused to admit a single refugee from this scheme. These two countries, as of today, stand against any development at the EU level, which would contribute to the consolidation of the Common European Asylum Policy.

Additionally, countries like Hungary and Poland do not enjoy a rosy relationship with Brussels over their stand and decisions over immigration. For instance, late July the European Commission referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice and is opening infringement proceedings against it for refusing to feed migrants who were denied asylum.

Today, I am not interested in blogging on the current state of affairs concerning these issues. I like to shed some lights on the EU’s continuous troubles with Turkey, Hungary and Poland over immigration control by a sneak and peek at the background of EU-Turkey deal and Poland and Hungary’s position on the EU’s relocation scheme. I will do this by considering the Member of European Parliament’s positions on these matters by using the results of an online e-mail interview I have conducted with the Members of the European Parliament, 2014-2019.

Insights into my Online E-mail Interview Experience

Let me first give you some insights into my online e-mail interview experience before I move into explaining my findings and why is it important to write about it.

Almost two years ago, I e-mailed a set of 10 questions to every single one of the 750 MEPs and reminded those who did not respond after six weeks with another e-mail.  It was the shortest survey I could conduct so that I could increase the response rate. In any case, it took me months to e-mail every single MEP for the first time and then further time was spent on it to make the last contact.

Many of you already know that collecting primary data is the least painless part of academic research. Particularly those who study political institutions and political parties would sympathise with me about how difficult it is for junior academics to reach out to the practitioners. I mean the Members of the European Parliament, in this instance. Thus do not be surprised when I tell you that I had a poor response rate: 11 MEPs out of 750. It is small sample size for a research paper, but I think it is not for a blog.

What This Blog Is About

I had three aims in conducting this short survey; it does sound a lot, but given the intricacies of the area of research, it is a fair endeavour.

(a) Firstly I aimed to find out how and why the EU prioritised reducing the flow of the refugees against the defence and protection of human rights and democracy in Turkey. Therefore first asked the MEPs if they supported Turkey-EU deal and why they think the EU made a such a deal with Turkey regardless of its poor record of human rights record and democratic backsliding.

My findings show that seven out of 11 were not happy with the EU-Turkey deal, which could be interpreted as the MEPs were not in support of this deal in the first place. When I asked why the deal was signed, majority of the MEPs did not connect the deal to democracy and human rights in Turkey, but the half of it treated the deal as a measure taken by the EU to curtail the rise of the Eurosceptic and populist political parties.

While for the rest of the interviewees, the deal was signed to reduce the flow of the refugees. It was as simple as that, for them. Whereas only two out of the 11 confirmed that geopolitical and economic interests are usually subordinate to the protection of democracy and human rights for the EU as far as the EU foreign policy concerned.

These results are significant as it highlights on not only why the EU signed a deal with Turkey, but also how and why the EU prioritised the stopping the flow of immigration to the protection and defence of democracy and human rights.

Between 2015 and 2016, the Turkish government of the day was most criticised over its violation of human rights and its drift towards competitive democracy. Regardless of this, having the EU signed the deal with the Turks made all wonder about the EU’s role of promoting and protecting democracy and human rights.

Thus, as far as Turkey’s current attempt to suspend the deal is concerned, the EU should not be surprised about Turkey’s action. I believe when a country is treated as business as usual when they are at their worst state of democracy and human rights, they can assume they can get away not only with drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean but also with the suspension of the EU-Turkey deal.

One thing that the EU could do next time when it is confronted with similar circumstances again is that it should stand up to the protection and defence of democracy and human rights and discover creative ways in dealing with similar crises.

The other point I like to make was when the EU prioritised the curbing the rise of the Euroscepticism; it strategy did not pay off well. As we have seen in May’s European Parliaments elections, political parties of this kind gained more than 70 seats in the EP, forming the Identity and Democracy Political Group, not counting those Eurosceptic MEPs, who did not join this group.

Instead, the approval of the EU-Turkey deal provided the Eurosceptic and far-right political parties/ movements with more material to work on.  They used the EU’s flexibility in the protection and defence of democracy and human rights into supporting their Eurosceptic discourse and narrative about how and why the EU must change.

(b) I enquired what the MEPs thought about Hungary and Poland’sposition on the EU’smigration quota scheme and their lack of solidarity for sharing the burden of immigration. ThusI asked them if the EU, then, was right in considering to enforce sanctions on Hungary and Poland over refusing to take on refugees.


Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło and Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán at a joint news conference in Warsaw | Jacek Turczyk/EPA

I observed that 9 out of 11 respondents noted that Hungary and Poland’sposition were unfair. Additionally, almost half of the MEPs were in favour of imposing sanctions on Hungary and Poland, the other half suggested in having a common solution for the migration and asylum issues.

Interview results indicate that the MEPs were not happy about how Hungarian and the Polish administrations were not cooperating with the EU institutions. I understand how the MEPs had mixed feelings about what actions to take against countries that would not comply with the EU’s common policy choices.

Additionally, I found these interview results useful in identifying a stance that the EU could have adopted at the time, which is to simultaneously (i) impose sanctions on to those countries that would not comply with the common decisions and (ii) look for common solutions for the immigration and asylum issue.

In this way, countries like Hungary, Poland and even Turkey would have learned that there could be consequences if they do not comply with the EU’s common policy choices. Thus the EU could have been in a different position now about these countries.

Plus the EU’s referral of Hungary to the ECJ could read as an action that should have been exploited earlier. The EU’s inaction and passiveness of years have allowed countries like Hungary to starve its migrants who were denied asylum. I believe Brussels have some self-reflection to make about where they have been wrong/slow and what steps they could take from now on to rectify their unforgivable slip-ups.

(c) Thirdly, I was aspired to highlight whether the MEPs thought the EU’smanagement of the refugee crisis was a success. Given the on EU’songoing problems with the EU’smigration and asylum policy, I was surprised to witness that nearly half of the MEPs thought the EU’smanagement of the refugee crisis was a success, while the rest treated it as a failure.

Furthermore, when asked why they thought the EU has failed in managing the refugee crisis, they all agreed that it was not the European Commission or the European Parliament to blame, but the Member States and their lack of solidarity in sharing the burden.

What is interesting about the MEPs defending the EU institutions is that they have not been objective since they are members of an EU institution, EP. I think had they taken an active and productive part in managing the refugee crisis; the Member States could have been made to comply.

Moreover, there is nothing new about either the EU institutions blaming the MSs or the MSs criticising the EU institutions when something goes wrong at the EU level.

Having said that I think the interests of the EU institutions and the EU MSs are irreversibly intertwined; thus, it is almost impossible to untangle their interactions to work out about whom to blame.