The uncoordinated approaches of the respective governments in Central Europe in dealing with the increased arrivals of refugees during summer and autumn 2015 has put the region into the spotlight of media attention. With the closure of the Balkan route in March 2016 and the implementation of the EU-Turkey action plan the numbers of arrivals have decreased. However, those expecting these steps to be the solution of the refugee and migration question will be severely disillusioned. Five independent institutes from Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia have therefore come up with a series of recommendations to improve cross-border understanding and cooperation. A particular focus has thereby been laid on civil society players, which provided help to refugees in all five countries from the onset of the crisis, but find it difficult to get their narrative heard.
The recommendations cover seven areas:
1. Civil society cooperation across borders needs to be improved via the exchange of experiences and development of communication strategies that add value to NGO efforts in each country.
2. A counter-narrative has to be told offering a broader – and not only security based – perspective of the refugee and migration challenges and explaining the complexities of the issue.
3. Civil society needs to step up efforts to proactively interact with governments, local authorities and national administrations demonstrating its will to cooperate.
4. Migration literacy will be key. Media representatives should be encouraged to provide a more balanced view of developments. Joint workshops, conferences and exchanges could be of help.
5. While the number of new arrivals has decreased, the integration of refugees that have already arrived requires stronger efforts. Civil society should continue to stress that integration efforts pay off.
6. Civil society organizations should make better use of European institutions and funds. European institutions for their part need to step up efforts to support (cross-border) civil society actions.
7. Individual governmental (in)action and a lack of cooperation led to the view of a single, unsupportive Central European block, which is spilling over to other areas of European politics. It is essential to take into account the differences of Central European countries, explaining the backgrounds and countering stigmatization.
The whole study Joint Solutions for Common Challenges in Central Europe: Cross-Border Cooperation in the Refugee Crisis published by the Austrian Society for European Politics is available here.
About the project
Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia are five countries in Central Europe, whose total size covers about half the area of France. Their capitals are in many cases located closer to each other than other major cities within their own respective countries. Their citizens do not only share parts of their history, but also many aspects of their culture and traditions. Also in economic terms, the five countries are strongly interconnected.
It comes, thus, as no surprise that these five countries are often confronted with similar regional challenges. Still, solutions are in most cases drafted on the national level only and proximity does not prevent misunderstandings. This became particularly obvious in the late summer of 2015, at the peak of the refugee and migration policy crisis. Some countries started to fence themselves off, while others decided to suspend the Dublin agreement or open borders. This finally led to the impression of a new split in Europe. The momentum was used for a revival of political Cold War rhetoric.
While all five countries definitely have their particularities, it has been obvious from the very first moment that things are not as black and white as media and politics liked to draw them, but reflect many different shades of grey. In all five countries there is a civil society that has provided help to refugees and has been aiming at a European solution that respects human rights, while at the same time being well aware of the fact that order and control has to be maintained. Still these players act in different political surroundings and often in an uncoordinated manner having poor access to media, public attention and financial resources. Knowledge about and contacts with like-minded NGOs in the neighbouring countries are still limited.
Therefore, five independent institutes from Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia have decided to join forces to jointly tackle these challenges. Five national workshops have been held in each of the countries, bringing together representatives from various parts of civil society to share their national experiences and provide recommendations for potential joint actions regarding the refugee question. These findings have then been collected in national reports and jointly discussed in workshops among the five project partners. This report presents a summary of the main findings of the workshops as well as brief overviews on the various country backgrounds. Parts of the recommendations are already being implemented or at least initiated by the project partners.
This is in particular the case with regards to the recommendations related to cross-border cooperation, media support, the creation of a counternarrative and the cultivation of the image of Central European countries. Furthermore, public events are currently being organized in all five countries to spread the message and the recommendations, and to show the public that the depiction of the “good” and “bad” ones in (Central) Europe is not as black and white as often perceived.
The project partners intend to step up their cooperation also in other fields of European integration beyond the refugee and migration question. It is evident that common challenges in the region can only be solved through cross-border collaboration on all levels.
Five independent institutes collaborating on this project are: Österreichische Gesellschaft für Europapolitik (Austria), EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy (Czech republic), The Central European Policy Institute (Slovakia), Central European University (Hungary) and International Relations Research Centre, University of Ljubljana (Slovenia).
For more information about the project please visit this website.