Visegrad countries call for ‘alternative plan’ to counter migration crisis

The Visegrad Four leaders, with colleagues from Bulgaria and Macedonia. [Czech government website]

The Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Slovak prime ministers who met in Prague in the framework of the Visegrad Four (V4) group called for an alternative back-up plan to stop refugees at Greece’s borders with Bulgaria and Macedonia, in case present measures prove ineffective.

In a group statement, the V4 leaders give a deadline to decide if the measures proposed by the European Commission, and decided at EU level, produce the necessary result or not.

“The weeks before the March European Council will indicate whether the specific measures taken produce satisfactory results so as to avoid repeating the events of 2015,” the Visegrad leaders state.

This doesn’t give much time before the 17 March summit, and all but ensures that the Visegrad countries will push for a backup EU border where migrants would be effectively stopped.

The leaders also called for “common solutions” and tackling “the root causes of the current migratory pressure, including ending of war in Syria” and warned that the flow of refugees and migrants would increase again in the spring.

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka is expected to present the V4 position to Council President Donald Tusk in Prague today. The Czech Republic holds the rotating presidency of the V4.

Backup border

The Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Boyko Borissov, and President of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, attended the V4 meeting. Greece’s border with Bulgaria and Macedonia is seen as the “backup border” by the V4.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is quoted as saying that he is pessimistic about Greece facing the challenge, as well as in the potential of the EU- Turkey action plan.

“This is why we discussed a Plan B to secure the borders of Macedonia and Bulgaria,” Fico said.

Earlier on Monday, Czech State Secretary for EU Affairs, Tomas Prouza, tweeted that Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov had complained that “Direct assistance from the European Commission is zero, therefore help from Visegrad, Austria, Slovenia important.”

For his part, the Bulgarian Prime Minister took the position that the external borders of the EU should be sealed and that migrants should cross only through border crossing points.

Borissov took distance from the Visegrad position, saying that any alternative borders would only change the routes of the migrants who try to reach the rich countries of the EU.

A statement by the Bulgarian government says that the migrants should be checked for their state of health and fingerprinted at border crossings, and that those who don’t qualify for asylum should be returned.

“Today’s meeting has reached its goal of showing to the Council that we want to take decisions, because a lot of time has been wasted,” Borissov said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reportedly put pressure on Borissov to stick to the EU position instead of seeking alternative solutions.

Merkel warns against Visegrad’s plans for a ‘reserve border system’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned yesterday (14 February) against plans for a “reserve border system” devised by the Visegrad Four, the group of countries including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

Borissov however rejected interpretations that he has been lectured what positions to defend.

“My conversation with Merkel took place on my initiative, because there was tension regarding today’s [Visegrad] meeting. We were so glad to remove the fence with Greece, and we don’t want to build a new one, it’s neither European, nor democratic”, Borissov said.

During communism Bulgaria had a fence at the Bulgarian-Greek border, which no longer exists.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said the EU migration policy had failed and that his country was ready to provide “human resources and material to countries that are ready to build a defence line south of Hungary.”

Fico offered 300 policemen as border guards in case Greece failed to protect its border, making it necessary for Bulgaria and Macedonia to boost their border controls under what he termed a “plan B”.

Slovak State secretary for the EU affairs and plenipotentiary for the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU Ivan Korčok said today (16 February) at the General Affairs Council:

“V4 is not causing dividing lines, it is pushing and mobilizing for implementation of agreed measures to control the external border, otherwise we will be pushed to introduce controls on the internal borders. We cannot sit and wait seeing what is happening on the Western Balkan route.“

  • 16 February: Council President Donald Tusk visits Prague, meets with PM Sobotka.
  • 18-19 February: EU summit.

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