After Brexit, Eastern Europe remains loyal, for now

After Brexit, Eastern Europe remains loyal, for now

After Brexit highlighted fears over immigration, the EU needs to address immigration and refugee movement to ensure Eastern Europe remains loyal.

Europe watchers now live in a post-Brexit era – a new world with an EU scrambling for its next steps and the protection of its current members. The coming referendums in France and other Western European countries are certainly worrisome for believers in the European project, and more countries leaving would almost certainly lead to a domino effect. One thing is for sure, the future of Europe is very uncertain. As a Europe watcher, it is important to monitor those topics which will serve as indicators of future EU integrity.

In a moment of clairvoyance, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Hungarian radio station Kossuth that Brexit’s roots can be traced, to some degree, to immigration. Though not quite so simple, Europe’s flood of immigrants from the MENA region is almost universally considered a major factor in Britain’s exit. The New York Times notes that immigration data implies an improvement in the workforce, but hostile feelings of populist parties manage to overlook it. If this is the case in Britain, it could be the same elsewhere, as nations across Europe seek their own EU referendums.

Firstly, one must consider whether one set of events will unfold – the referendums of Western states such as France, Sweden and others. Secondly, however is the question of how Eastern European states, so heavily affected by the immigration crisis, will respond to a changing Europe. Orban again stated on Kossuth that Europe must hear the voice of its people, and these are wise words, even if coming from the populist horse’s mouth. If one wishes to see into the future of Eastern Europe, immigration is one place to start.

Eastern Europe remains loyal, for now

A recent Pew Research Poll indicates that Poland and Hungary wish for significantly more EU power than do Greece, the UK and Sweden. Past Pew polls have reflected a very high level of EU satisfaction from Lithuania, Romania, and other newer additions to the Union. This shows that in the immediate future, Eastern European states do not pose a significant threat to EU integrity. They stand too much to gain from its organization, even though some have responded very militantly to immigration. As Orban identified, the EU’s treatment of immigration in the East could be a decisive factor in the coming years.

Hungary and Sweden in 2015 had the highest numbers of asylum applications, with Hungary reaching 1,799 applications (per 100,000 population,) well over 1000 more than Germany’s 587. Bulgaria also received a significant number of applications at 283. These numbers merely reflect those seeking political asylum, and do not even begin to grasp the number of immigrants passing through each country. The implication here is that Hungary, as well as its smaller, poorer neighbors near the Southeast, are prime candidates for future independence agendas depending on the EU’s handling of asylum and refugee issues.

Europe watchers should closely monitor the EU’s policy toward these heavily-affected countries: it is also important to monitor political leadership. Mr. Orban of Hungary has established himself as a nationalist leader, and yet has so far remained faithful to the EU. It is no secret that populist and nationalist parties have risen up in countries such as Austria and Poland. The populist trend across Europe could continue to resurface, shifting the opinions of EU hopeful countries in the East away from their current loyalties. Consequently, it could all depend, to a great degree, upon Europe’s handling of immigration throughout the coming decade, and how that immigration manifests inside these poorer EU nations. This central issue of immigration has implications for the much larger picture, as each country’s involvement in the EU will alter the very nature of trade and business across the continent. Europe watchers – now is the time to pay attention to immigration policy.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Jonathan Hoogendoorn

Jonathan is a Massachusetts-based geopolitical analyst with an M.S. in International Relations and Diplomacy from Northeastern University. He works at a global analytics firm as well as Wikistrat, focusing on the Russian-European relationship, industry/political dynamics, and diplomatic relations. Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @jonathanhoog