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28/09/2016

Visegrad group calls migration mini-summit, seeks plan B

Central Europe

Visegrad group calls migration mini-summit, seeks plan B

Slovak PM Robert Fico [R] and his Czech colleague Bohuslav Sobotka [R]. [European Council]

Prague will host an extraordinary summit of the Visegrad group, three days ahead of the February EU summit, to discuss the migration crisis and a possible “plan B” in case of a widening divide with the older Schengen members.

The Czech Republic will convene an extraordinary summit of the Visegrad Four (V4: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) on 15 February, in order to seek solutions to the migration crisis, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka announced yesterday (26 January).

The 18-19 February EU summit will try to reach an agreement over concessions to British Prime Minister David Cameron ahead of the UK referendum on Europe. Migration issues are also expected to be discussed at the EU summit, but Western EU members now prefer to meet in a small group of like-minded countries. Two such mini-summits have been held lately.

>>Read: ‘Like-minded countries’ hold mini-summit with Turkey

Sobotka, who holds the rotating presidency of the Visegrad group, has expressed dissatisfaction since 29 November, when the leaders of Germany, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Sweden, Greece and the Netherlands met separately to discuss migration.

But the divisions started earlier, when the Visegrad countries decided to rejected mandatory quotas for taking refugees, proposed by the Commission. Since then, the four countries have insisted that efforts should instead be directed toward strengthening the EU’s external borders and stopping the flow of immigrants from the Aegean Sea.

>>Read: Visegrad summit rejects migrant quotas

Sobotka met yesterday with his Slovak counterpart Robert Fico, in Bratislava.

“I’d be glad to discuss at the extraordinary V4 summit the specific measures we can adopt to bolster the protection of Schengen’s borders,” stressed Sobotka, adding that this must feature a backup plan in case Greece and Turkey fail to protect their external border.

“Greece has not been able to provide (border) protection,” Fico said.

This sentiment was echoed also by Fico, who spoke in extremely critical terms with regard to the common EU policy vis-à-vis the migrant crisis.

>>Read: Fico: EU’s migration policy is ‘ritual suicide’

“There must be a back-up plan, regardless of whether Greece stays in Schengen. We must find an effective border protection,” Fico said. “It is particularly Macedonia and Bulgaria that can play a crucial role in the protection of Schengen border, even if they are not part of Schengen,” he added.

The Visegrad countries and the “like-minded” countries of Western Europe differ on the very basic concept of how borders should be strengthened. The V4 countries take the view that wall and fences should stop the migrants, while the Western countries seek to “slow” their arrival, being prepared to provide asylum for a limited amount of time only to people fleeing warzones.

What both groups of countries may have in common is a growing sentiment that Greece cannot realistically assume its obligations as a member of Schengen, to which both groups of countries belong.