Most challenging are demands that reflect values that have yet to gain widespread support in the East. When the EU proposed a treaty on women’s rights in 2011, Slovakia signed it, thinking its purpose was to combat violence against women. A closer reading revealed that it redefined “gender” as the “social roles, behaviors, activities and characteristics that a particular society considers appropriate for women and men.” Majority-Catholic Slovakia defines marriage in more biological terms as a union of a man and woman. Bratislava amended its constitution in 2014 to reflect this choice, and in March 2019, the Slovak parliament voted 101-28 against ratification of the treaty. Of the seven EU member countries that have not yet ratified the treaty, six are in Central Europe; the seventh is the United Kingdom.
Not surprisingly, gun control has become an East-West issue. Firearms manufacturing has long been a staple industry in Czechia, where hunting is popular. The Czechs have a very low murder rate and see little gun violence, which explains why Prague filed a lawsuit in 2017 against an EU directive tightening gun ownership. Still being litigated, the case is pregnant with irony. The Brussels directive, it turns out, was a response to the sharp rise in terrorist attacks in 2015—the year German chancellor Angela Merkel took the unilateral decision to welcome a million-plus migrants into a Europe whose internal borders were unpoliced.
In reaction, more Czechs sought guns; 11,000 new firearms permits were issued between 2015 and 2017. Radio Prague reported that “Police say the rising trend of gun ownership has been caused by fears over migration, terrorist attacks, and fear of personal assault.” In Germany, firearms offenses were dropping until 2015—then rose more than 25 percent in the following two years, according to The Wall Street Journal, which said, “Gun ownership is rising across Europe . . . spurred in part by insecurity arising from terrorist attacks.”
In an admission of defeat for Brussels, this EU directive was heavily amended in 2017 after taking Czech criticism, among others, into consideration. The European Commission noted that the newly amended directive has “more flexible rules for hunting and target shooting in order to avoid unnecessary impediments.” These changes though were introduced well after the 2015 migrant crisis had abated, and the EU leader primarily responsible for said crisis is only recently being held to account.
MERKEL’S OUT-of-control migration crisis erupted just in time to cripple plans by a new French president, Emmanuel Macron, to deepen and strengthen the EU. The worst effects of the migrant crisis were blunted by the leaders of the V4 countries, but the future of the EU is now on hold indefinitely. Such failures undermined the EU and tarnished the reputations of its two most powerful countries, without whom nothing important happens in Europe.
Brussels is prone to invoke the “rule of law” and “democracy” whenever it points an accusatory finger eastward, but there was nothing democratic, or lawful, about Merkel’s unilateral decision to allow one million-plus migrants into Europe in 2015.
Even two years later, a report from the German Bundestag concluded that Merkel’s government had offered no legal justification for its decision. Not only did the chancellor not put the issue to an EU vote, but neither did she seek a Bundestag vote; she merely discussed it with a few ministers and aides. According to a detailed report by Der Spiegel in 2016, Merkel also ignored pleas by then-Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and Dieter Romann, head of the German Federal Police, that she impose border controls. Merkel also failed to seek permission to suspend Germany’s asylum laws, which were aligned with the EU Dublin Regulation that all migrants must be returned to the EU country from which they entered. More to the relevant point, EU treaties do not call for open borders on the frontier.
While disregarding the democratic process, Merkel can also be held responsible for further rule-of-law crises—surges in both street crime and terrorism-related arrests, which the V4 countries avoided.
After burying the issue for six months, for instance, a leaked police report forced German authorities to concede that about 1,200 women were assaulted by as many as 2,000 men on New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne, Hamburg, Duesseldorf, Stuttgart and other cities. What’s more, “There is a connection between the emergence of this phenomenon and the rapid migration of 2015,” said Holger Münch, president of the German Federal Crime Police Office. Most of the suspects were said to come from North Africa, and half of them had been in Germany for less than a year.
This set the table for anti-immigrant demonstrations that erupted in the eastern German city of Chemnitz in August 2018 after two Middle Eastern men were questioned in the fatal stabbing of a local man. Indeed, according to a government-sponsored study, violent crime rose by 10 percent in the two years following the migrant crisis. More than 90 percent of that has been attributed to young male refugees between the ages of fourteen and thirty. Given that the Merkel government has been accused of covering up the full scale of migrant criminality, these numbers could very well be higher. The Wall Street Journal revealed that in Berlin, organized crime is already dominated by a dozen Arab, Chechen, Lebanese and Kurdish families, who are now recruiting among the refugees who arrived in 2015. While the population of foreign nationals in Germany is 12.8 percent, they account for 28.7 percent of murders and manslaughters and 34.7 percent of all crime.
In Central Europe, people are safer. Rates of crime, violence, and vandalism are reaching historic lows in all V4 countries, trending downward for ten years in three of the countries, according to statistics from Eurostat. The ratio of people reporting such incidents in 2017 ranged from 5.4 percent in Poland to 9.3 percent in Czechia. In France and Germany, crime rates are much higher—14.2 percent in Germany and 13.9 in France—which is double the V4 average of 7 percent—and trending higher in Germany.
More serious is the spike in terrorism in Western Europe. While worldwide terrorism-related deaths decreased in 2016, that same year terrorist deaths in Europe rose to a historic high. The Institute for Economics & Peace’s 2017 Global Terrorism Index ranked France as the number-one country amongst Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries for terrorist incidents. Outside of that group, it out-ranked highly unstable countries, such as Ethiopia, Lebanon, Mali and Palestine for terrorism. France was also the only European country to make the list of “50 Worst Terrorist Attacks in 2016,” at number seventeen, with the other forty-nine attacks taking place in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. The following year, the number of terrorist-related deaths in Western Europe dropped by more than half, but the number of incidents increased by 11.4 percent, while global terrorism was still declining.
An EU report illuminates this with data on the arrest of terror suspects. In all four V4 countries, five such suspects were arrested in 2017, or one suspect for every 12.7 million people. German authorities arrested fifty-eight terrorist suspects, on the other hand, a potential terrorist for every 1.4 million citizens, while France detained 411 suspects, or one for every 162,540 people, according to Europol, the EU Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation. The vast majority of those detained were jihadist terror suspects.
THE V4 countries arguably saved Europe from worse consequences by resisting the migrant wave. “At the beginning of the 2015–16 crisis,” a Carnegie Europe report said, “eu member states divided into sharply opposed camps.” While most northern and western European countries—at first—welcomed the migrants, the report said, “The Central European states immediately opted for restrictive policies.” The EUobserver reported that “The fiercest opposition has come from eastern European members, notably the Visegrád Four.” The V4 group urged strengthened external borders—and initially, they were ignored.
An EU Council majority voted September 22, 2015, for a legally binding plan—one its supporters also labeled “voluntary”—to redistribute migrants to member countries via quotas, breaking from the normative rule that “sensitive” decisions be unanimous. Joined by Romania, V4 members Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia voted “no,” and even the pro-eu EUobserver said, “The vote marks an unusual EU step, in terms of forcing a minority of EU states to take action on issues of national sovereignty.” Poland initially voted for the plan, but Polish parliamentary elections on October 25 unseated the Warsaw government—in part over this EU vote. The election was won by the opposition Law and Justice party, which then joined its V4 colleagues in opposition, just the first of many elections—East and West—that revealed popular opposition to migrant relocation and unguarded internal EU borders.
At first critical of the V4 countries, western EU states quickly emulated them. Budapest was widely condemned in 2015 for building a fence along its 110-mile border with Serbia to stop migrants, while Germany still welcomed them. Often unmentioned, however, is that Hungary had more asylum requests than any other EU country in 2015 on a per-capita basis—three times more than Germany and sixteen times more than France. Condemnations aside, within weeks many other EU members followed Hungary’s lead.