In the aftermath of the attack in Paris, some in Europe — and, for that matter, some in America — are questioning whether the tragedy was related to the influx of Syrian refugees to the country. But Poland is the first country to take those concerns and move toward making them policy.
Konrad Szymanski, Poland's incoming European affairs minister after his Law and Justice Party's victory in recent elections, wrote today on a conservative Polish website that in light of Friday's massacres in Paris his country will not accept the refugees it is supposed to take in under a new European Union plan.
Given Law and Justice's nationalist and Euroskeptical tendencies and general hospitality to bigoted viewpoints (the incoming defense minister, for example, is a fan of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion), this should probably be taken more as a pretext than a real reason. "The European Council's decisions, which we criticised, on the relocation of refugees and immigrants to all EU countries are part of European law," he writes, but "after the tragic events of Paris we do not see the political possibility of respecting them."
The specific issue here is that the European Union recently agreed to a plan to move many of the 160,000 or so refugees currently parked in Greece and Italy so as to redistribute the burden more fairly across the EU's 28 member states. Law and Justice was in opposition at the time, criticized the decision, and is now looking for a reason to back out.
The larger context is that one of the cornerstones of the project of European integration is what's called the Schengen Area — a bloc of countries composed of almost all EU states that allows for passport-free movement between countries. Even more than the common currency, this is a tangible manifestation of the unification project. You can hop on a train from Paris to Brussels and never pass a secured border. You can fly from Berlin to Stockholm without clearing customs. It's like moving around one big giant country where people happen to speak different languages from city to city.
At the same time, each European country maintains sovereignty in the realm of national security. But as the movement of persons from place to place becomes increasingly viewed as a security issue, the politics of Schengen become increasingly fraught, and this Polish move is just one move out of several. Austria has recently begun fencing its border with Slovenia, and France's declaration of emergency yesterday included a closing of borders.