The Visegrád Four countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – made no secret that they oppose the new asylum policy as recently proposed by the European Commission. The EURACTIV network reports.
An 4 May, the Commission proposed a new asylum policy to replace the defunct Dublin system, according to which EU members would be fined €250,000 per refugee if they refuse to accepted refugees distributed throughout the bloc when a “fairness mechanism” is triggered. Refusing a family of four would cost €1m euros.
All four countries argue that asylum seekers are not interested in long-term stays in Central or Eastern Europe, and would seek to move to wealthier EU member states such as Germany instead.
Hungary and Slovakia challenged the quota proposal in court last December, and Budapest also expects to hold a referendum on it later this year, arguing that the quota system violates its national sovereignty.
Slovakia: Many countries will oppose the proposal
Slovakia will not support the European Commission’s proposal on changes to the EU´s asylum system, Minister of the Interior Robert Kaliňák said on 4 May.
He called the move “a step nine months backwards in the discussion” and one that does not “respect reality”.
“We are not going to support it, but we are making an effort so that the number of countries looking for a sensible solution is as high as possible,” the minister, who will soon preside over Justice and Home Affairs Council, said. Slovakia is taking over the rotating Presidency of the European Council in July.
Kaliňák does not think the proposal will find support from other countries, either.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miroslav Lajčák, echoed the scepticism, especially when it comes to the payment of the €250,000 per immigrant that member states refuse to take in.
“To put a price tag on one migrant has to do with ethical boundaries and some others, that I do not want to specify. I really do have some troubles understanding it,” Lajčák said, as quoted by the TASR press agency.
Nevertheless, he tried to calm the discussion, adding that there is no need to dramatize the situation, since the European Commission’s paper “is just a proposal”. “We know what the atmosphere among member states is,” he added.
Speaking to EURACTIV Slovkia before the publication of the proposal, Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic to the EU, and the plenipotentiary for the Slovak EU Presidency, Ivan Korčok, voiced reservations about the timing of the reform, since we still do not have the external borders “under control”.
The second reservation, he said, is whether we have sufficient tools in place to increase the effectiveness of return policies.
“It is a fiction that reformed asylum policy can function primarily on the principle of solidarity,” he said.
The Slovak opposition parties are even more vocal in their criticism than the government.
“Instead of working on the real protection of the Schengen border, the only idea that the Commission comes with is to distribute the refugees across Europe, something Slovakia says it is against, for a long time already,” claims the leader of the opposition, MEP Richard Sulík, whose liberal party is ironically called “Freedom and Solidarity”.
“The Commission is relentlessly ignoring the citizens’ will and this is how we should see the newest proposal to pay fines,“ he hammered out.
Czech Republic: This is punishment for those who oppose mandatory quotas
The Czech Republic also rejects any proposals for the penalisation of those states which don’t agree with quotas. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka made he following statement:
“Every country is responsible for protection of its borders and pursuance of the asylum procedures. The current asylum system of the EU and also the Schengen area are based on these basic principles and therefore it is necessary to keep and exact these principles.“
Interior minister Milan Chovanec said a day before the publication of the proposal that quotas aren’t a systemic solution.
“This will not be changed, even if there is an option to redeem from this duty which we can consider as ‘indulgence’ or, on the other hand, as a punishment for those who don’t want to accept dysfunctional mandatory quotas.”
Petr Fiala, the chairman of the opposition party ODS (ECR-affiliated) stated:
“A fine of 7 million Czech crowns for every refugee is a punishment for national states for fulfilling its function of state and protecting its citizens. European countries will reject these proposed changes if they don’t lose the instinct of self-preservation yet completely.”
Hungary: ‘A punch in the stomach’
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that the European Commission proposal for a fine of €250,000 per immigrant was “a punch in the stomach”. He calculated that this would mean that Hungary would need to pay half a billion euros in fines.
Repeating his earlier stand against the EU’s refugee policies, the premier said that steps should first be made to protect borders and refugee camps should be set up outside the EU.
In Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński, who is head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS, ECR-affiliated), said his country will not take any more refugees and refused to pay any fine imposed on them.
According to two Council decisions (22 July 2015 and 22 September 2015), the Visegrad countries are expected to take in refugees from Italy and Greece as follows: Slovakia 712, Czech Republic 2315, Hungary 988 and Poland 5969. If Poland, for example, refuses to take any refugees, the total fine for Warsaw would amount to close to €1.5 billion.
Kaczynski said he needed to protect his country from any terror attacks by keeping refugees out.
The PiS leader commented: “After recent events connected with acts of terror we will not accept refugees because there is no mechanism that would ensure security.
“This is the position of the prime minister and the whole of PiS.”
Poland: Migrants bring threat of terrorism
Indeed, the Commisison proposal has not been welcomed at all in Warsaw.
The government criticised the idea, as it has been – and remains – opposed to any mandatory solutions proposed by Brussels. Elżbieta Witek, Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Beata Szydło, during an interview with the Polish Radio, has emphasised that Poland “wants to help the refugees but on our terms”.
The Vice-President of the European Parliament and member of the ruling Law and Justice party, Ryszard Czarnecki, was even more critical. Writing for a Christian conservative website “Fronda” he called the proposal a “sign of degeneration”, as it puts a value on a human being, and also an attempt of extorting member states.
Yet, despite the strongly-worded statements, the proposal is considered unlikely to pass through the European Parliament and the Council – and so the threat of fines is presented as another example of a strong-handed approach of Brussels to Poland and its concerns in order to justify the rising tensions the two.
Poland’s Foreign, Minister Witold Waszczykowski, said he wondered if the European Commission’s proposal was serious, “because it sounds like an idea announced on April Fool’s Day”.
Last September, the EU plan to relocate tens of thousands of refugees from Italy and Greece to elsewhere on the continent has been forced through against the wishes of four eastern European states.
The Commission’s quota scheme was approved by interior ministers with qualified majority vote. despite the objections of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, who considered this decision should be taken at summit level with unanimity. Finland abstained.