In the ongoing, recent controversy about the most promising way to stem the flow of refugees to Europe – to block the Balkan route or to strike a comprehensive agreement with Turkey – Poland has been in the forefront of neither camp.
Struggling with a worsening reputation across Europe due to the severe domestic constitutional crisis, Warsaw seemed keen to avoid being labelled – once again – as the Eastern European bad guy. Poland’s engagement has, therefore, been striking in its quietness.
Though not in the driving seat, Warsaw has been more sympathetic to the Austria-led initiative to seal the Greek-Macedonian border than to the prospective EU-Turkey deal, mostly because of the expected immediate effects of the former. In their declaration of 15 February the Visegrad countries stressed primarily the importance of strengthening the EU’s external borders (including a new European Border and Coast Guard) and the implementation of the EU-Turkey joint action plan from November 2015.
They also pointed out the importance of an “alternative back-up plan for the Western Balkans migration route” as well as “their willingness to provide the most exposed countries of the Balkans region, in general, with adequate means of practical support based on the actual needs”. Indeed, on 26 February the Polish Minister for Interior Mariusz Błaszczak declared that Poland would send 30 border guard officials to support the monitoring of the Macedonian-Greek border. In the past, Poland had granted this kind of support to Hungary and Slovenia on a bilateral basis (in addition to the 46 Polish officers deployed in Frontex operations). On the same occasion Błaszczak said, that the solution of the crisis is the responsibility of the West European countries (and not the central and eastern European region) and called upon those countries to revise their asylum policy.
Before the EU-Turkey summit Warsaw’s main goal seemed to be not to let the deal create new obligations for Poland to accept refugees. Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło tweeted after the EU-Turkey summit:
“At the request of Poland, in the final text of the agreement, an amendment was added that there will be no new commitments on resettlement and relocation [of refugees]”
This was praised by the government as Poland’s main achievement and preserving it is Warsaw’s key interest when the leaders meet on 17-18 March. Poland will perhaps have to accept that the number of 900 refugees which it agreed to resettle (in the UNHCR framework) in July 2015 (the decision is honoured by the new Syzdlo government) will probably part of the resettlement agreement with Turkey. This would mean that the refugees would possibly come earlier than Warsaw expected. However, using the EU relocation scheme as a mechanism for resettlement, an idea floated in the European debate, seems be a red line for Warsaw.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.