A summit of the “Visegrad Four” countries – the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland – held in Prague on 4 September rejected mandatory quotas for taking refugees, but said the group wanted to contribute to tackling the crisis and protect the Schengen border-free zone.
In the joint statement, the four countries call for “preserving the voluntary nature of EU solidarity measures” and state that “any proposal leading to introduction of mandatory and permanent quota for solidarity measures would be unacceptable”.
As Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker prepares to announce on 9 September a plan with a permanent mechanism based on mandatory quotas for countries to take in refugees, the four central European countries made it plain they would not adhere to the concept.
Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said refugee quotas would attract further refugees to the EU.
If the discussion on the migration crisis is limited to refugee redistribution, EU countries will meet once a month to negotiate about numbers, although the core of the problem is elsewhere, Kopacz said.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who chaired the meeting, said discussions about refugee quotas did not go to the point. The core of the problem is the EU incapability to regulate migration and the situation in the countries like Syria and Libya, he argued.
“We agreed that the debate on quotas has only one purpose. It diverts attention from the real core of the problem. Europe lost capability to regulate migration,” Sobotka said.
The joint statement from the four countries calls for a more active contribution to solving the situation in Libya, Syria and the Middle East, by “involving all relevant global players, including the United States of America and the Russian Federation”.
Austria’s Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner has proposed cutting EU funding for member states that don’t take in their fair share of migrants. Asked to comment about those calls, Sobotka said he considered such blackmail unacceptable.
As expected, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico opposed the quotas. But he called for the EU’s Schengen internal borders to remain open, saying closing them would be an enormous defeat for European politics.
The joint statement also says the countries have agreed to increase financial and material aid to the most vulnerable refugee groups and the countries with large refugee populations. They also agreed European policymakers should focus more attention on the Balkan migration route, and not just from the Mediterranean region.
Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán was reportedly offered assistance by the three other Visegrad countries for dealing with the unprecedented wave of migrants that have been crossing Hungary in recent months.
Sobotka said Orbán did not ask for any particular assistance but did not rule out coming back with a concrete proposal if the crisis continued.