While the Commission seems to have had the last word on the issue of relocations, it remains to be seen whether this victory was worth the price paid. Indeed, for the results the relocation actually achieved, it could be argued that the costs of imposing it were disproportionally high, and this for several reasons.
Firstly, although the V4 did not successfully dodge its obligation to relocate, the political tensions surrounding the Council Decision contributed to the failure of the Commission’s proposal for a permanent relocation scheme. In a similar vein, negotiations on a recast of the Dublin Regulation will likely go through an unanimity vote rather than QMV. With Brexit looming ever closer, some researchers expect that with the reconfiguration of the population weight, the Visegrad Group’s voting power in the Council will increase, with Poland seeing the biggest increase (+27.8% relative change in voting power). Given the fracture between Poland and Hungary and the rest of the Member States, this increased power is likely to have important repercussions and further complicate Council Decisions on migration, including those decided through QMV.
Secondly, the line of fracture that was created as a result of the politically-charged relocation quotas may also have an impact on the upcoming European parliamentary elections. Orbán has been able to mobilise Eurosceptic sentiments by using the relocation scheme as an example that the EU is looking to impose permanent mandatory relocation quotas on Member States. While this, amongst other comments, has led him to be suspended from the European People’s Party (EPP), the propaganda he uses has resonated with public opinion.
Thirdly, even countries which voted for the relocation scheme did not fully fulfil their obligations (aside from Malta). The short-term and partial success of the temporary relocation schemes may have come at the price of political disunity and the impossibility to imagine any permanent mechanisms for solidarity beyond the Dublin system. Some commentators have argued that the tensions surrounding the relocation schemes reflects the power play between Western European states (especially Germany and Central and Eastern European states), and undermines European harmonisation on migration issues by favouring national responses to what is an European issue.
In a politically-polarising move, Donald Tusk himself has recognised that imposing the scheme was a mistake, as it was “highly divisive”, “turned out to be ineffective”, and has received “disproportionate attention in light of its impact on the ground.” This step towards the V4 group could be considered important in light of the growing divide on migration.
Ivan Krastev, a Bulgarian political scientist, has argued that the tensions over the mandatory quotas has highlighted the incapacity of Western European countries to fully appreciate the weight of history and the spectre of the USSR on Central and Eastern European countries, especially in the way this may impact resistance to projects which are seen as threatening to sovereignty. According to Krastev, this blind spot is very dangerous: “in reality, all the crises that Europe faces today [the eurozone crisis, Brexit, the Ukraine crisis] divide the Union one way or another […] But it is the east-west divide that reemerged after the refugee crisis that threatens the future survival of the Union itself.” Given the Commission’s response to the resistance on relocation quotas, Krastev believes that “what will increase the likelihood of the European Union surviving is the spirit of compromise. Making room for conciliation should be the major priority for those who care for the union.” It remains to be seen whether the EU will be able to repair the fragile consensus that existed before the relocation quotas.