The Czech Republic insists that it will not accept any refugees under the EU relocation system despite a legal case brought by the European Commission, and its new Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said the Eastern EU members’ position must be taken into account when reforming the bloc’s asylum system.
Babiš, who came to the 14-15 December EU Summit in Brussels, said he would ask for a meeting with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker next year because of the infringement procedure launched over refugee relocation quotas.
The legal case was launched in June against the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, three members of the four-country Visegrad group, as they refused to accept refugees from Italy and Greece.
The Commission said last week it would take the three countries to the EU Court of Justice.
“I will ask Mr Juncker for a separate meeting which would be scheduled for next year, to talk about the agenda that the Czech Republic has to solve with the Commission,” Babiš told reporters at the European Council summit in Brussels on Thursday (14 December).
Babiš said he appreciated that European Council President Donald Tusk had described the quotas as “highly divisive” and “ineffective” in his note to EU leaders ahead of the Summit, which drew harsh criticism from the Commission.
“Donald Tusk was brave enough to say loudly what many of us think,” Babiš told journalists.
He said the Commission should also understand that if the opinion of Visegrad countries is not reflected in the reform of the EU asylum system, there is a “threat to the whole European project”.
“It is unacceptable that anyone forces us to accept people to work or live in the Czech Republic. We want to decide ourselves,” Babiš said.
The long-term position of the Czech Republic is that the EU should aim to protect its external borders and tackle migration flows in the regions where they originate.
The Visegrad leaders and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni agreed on Thursday on a V4 contribution to the European effort for border protection and the prevention of migration from Libya.
The four countries should together contribute €35m to the project, which is part of the activities financed by the EU trust fund for Africa.
Migration ranks high in public debate
Although the migration crisis brought almost no refugees or migrants to the Czech Republic, the public debate has been significantly influenced by it.
In the October parliamentary election, anti-immigration far-right party Svoboda a Přímá Demokracie (SPD) finished fourth and took almost 11% of the vote. This, Babiš said, shows that the migration issue is important and must be discussed.
Matter of principles
The prime minister, who is still waiting for his government to be approved by parliament, refused to follow the example of neighbouring Slovakia to avoid legal sanctions.
Bratislava decided to admit several refugees within the relocation system and has therefore not been included in the infringement procedure against the other Visegrad countries. However, its Prime Minister Robert Fico said in Brussels on Thursday there is no human right to travel to the EU and the EU must protect itself.
“It is a paradox that Slovakia was the first to protest against the quotas. They even filed a suit against the Commission,” Babiš said.
He insisted that the Czech Republic will not solve the situation in a similar way. “We cannot solve the penalty issue by taking twenty refugees. This is a matter of principles,” he added.
The Czech Republic has criticised the idea of relocation quotas since they were introduced. So far the country has accepted only 12 people and said it will take no more.