Czech MEPs downplay V4 role in EU’s migration policy change

Bavarian Prime Minister and head of the Christian Social Union (CSU) party, Horst Seehofer (L-R), Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Chairman of the Christian Social Union (CSU) party parliamentary group, Alexander Dobrindt, attend the annual Christian Social Union (CSU) party meeting at Kloster Seeon (Seeon Abbey), in Seeon, Germany, 5 January 2018. [Lukasz Barth/EPA/EFE]

The EU is finally heading the way we are proposing in terms of migration policy, the Visegrád Group countries say. But two Czech MEPs point out that the V4’s contribution to the change may be limited and other factors should be considered as well.

June’s European Summit conclusions on migration policy were described by many Czech politicians as a victory for the V4 countries. The Czech PM Andrej Babiš was highly satisfied with the agreement. “The Visegrád Group was able to push through all it intended,” he stated.

Member states agreed the EU should strengthen its external borders, create disembarkation platforms outside Europe, and relocate asylum seekers only on voluntary basis, not using a mandatory quota system.

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“We are certainly dealing with a fundamental change in tone and in terms of main goals of the European migration policy. Currently, the priorities are the protection of external borders and cooperation with third countries,” commented Kai-Olaf Lang, a political scientist at the Berlin Science and Politics Foundation (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik) in a recent interview with

“Moreover, the idea of enforcing the mandatory amounts of relocation of refugees is no longer popular with most member states,” he added.

But not everyone sees the pressure of V4 countries as the main cause of the change in migration policy. Moreover, the quota system may not be dead yet. Czech MEP Petr Ježek (ALDE) has pointed out that the summit agreement (on voluntary relocation) does not include the Dublin IV regulation.

According to Lang, as to migration, the EU has certainly evolved towards what the V4 countries demanded, although there is not a complete unity of the bloc in this regard. “The language of discussing these issues is still a bit different in many countries,” Lang said.

Change thanks to V4?

Another Czech MEP, Tomáš Zdechovský (EPP), thinks that although it might look like the EU succumbed to the pressure of the V4, the change was in his opinion more gradual, with many variables to consider.

“The attitude towards migration was influenced more by the Bulgarian presidency, Bavarian politicians and the election of Sebastian Kurz in Austria. The success of various extremist, anti-system and populistic parties in certain elections played its part as well,” said Zdechovský.

“V4 was no longer alone in negotiations. The breakpoint moment represents the decision by Angela Merkel after the German elections to no longer promote the mandatory quota system,” he added.

Ježek claims the EU is trying to find a viable solution to the refugee crisis, but the Visegrád countries are not constructive and only bring general proclamations to the table.

“It took some time before the EU realised how big the problem is, but then it adopted many legal and nonlegal tools to put an end to migration waves. That is the reason why the number of illegal migrants significantly decreased. V4 representatives do not talk about this,” Ježek said.

Tomáš Jungwirth from the Consortium of Migrants Assisting Organizations sees as key the role of Visegrád countries in successfully blocking the EU discussion about the internal asylum system reform. Due to this, the negotiations shifted towards topics the V4 preferred – the external dimension of EU migration policy.

“The shift would have happened sooner or later anyway. It is important to consider that many countries started to view this as a political priority only after the numbers of asylum applicants notably dropped,” the analyst explained.

The big reform not in sight

A compromise regarding a complex migration and asylum policy reform any time soon is doubtful. MEP Ježek does not expect a deal to be reached in upcoming months.

“Mandatory relocation of asylum seekers is for me a dead end that caused worries for a number of countries, including V4. The debate has become irrational. On the other hand, countries with large amounts of migrants see relocation as a key part of the desired reform. A compromise is hard to find,” Ježek said.

Zdechovský is more optimistic. “Current talks include creating asylum centres outside the EU, a similar system is applied in Australia. I personally believe the negotiations will be successful, but it might take months. I would also like to praise Italy for its decision to send ships back to Libya. This represents a step in the right direction,” said the MEP.

Jungwirth argued that the Australian model, which is promoted by PM Babiš as well, is not applicable to the specific legal and geographical framework of the EU.

According to Jungwirth the EU currently faces several important questions. Whether the member countries can agree on what the reform of the European asylum system – not including the Dublin regulation – should look like, and how successful the move of asylum proceedings to third countries will be.

“The crucial question now is whether certain countries will agree with placing landing platforms controlled by the EU in their territory. Continuation of the debate about hotspots in Europe can be expected as well,”the expert added.

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