Saturday

31st Oct 2020

Visegrad countries immediately push back on new migration pact

  • Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki (l), Hungarian premier Vitkor Orban, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Czech PM Andrej Babia in the Berlaymont HQ (Photo: European Commission)

The prime ministers of the central European 'Visegrad Four' countries pushed back against the EU Commission's migration reform package on Thursday (24 September) - only a day after it was presented.

After a meeting in Brussels with EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and Polish premier Mateusz Morawiecki, and the Czech prime minister Andrej Babis said the plan was unacceptable to the V4 group, which also includes Slovakia. (Prime minister Igor Matovic was not present, but was represented by his Czech counterpart.)

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Orban - a staunch opponent of migration - said of the plan that the "tone of the proposal" is better, but still not acceptable to Hungary.

"There are many changes, but there is not yet a breakthrough. A breakthrough would mean outside hotspots," Orban said after the meeting.

"Nobody can enter the EU without having a permission to do so because their request for asylum is accepted. Until that moment they have to stay out of the territory of the EU," he added.

The proposal does not include a once-popular idea with some EU governments, of establishing hotspots outside of the EU in third countries.

The so-called hotspots would be designed to deal with asylum requests beyond the bloc's borders, so EU countries would not have to manage migration themselves.

"We have to stop migration and the quotas and relocation. These rules are not acceptable for us," Babis added.

"The strategy should be that these people really should stay and live in their home countries, and we have to do the maximum for this and we have really to discuss it," he added.

The central European countries were the key opponents of earlier plans to overhaul the bloc's asylum policy, in the wake of the 2015 migration crisis.

They opposed relocating asylum seekers in their countries, and lost a court battle over it.

In 2015 they had been outvoted by other EU member states on the issue, which has soured negotiations on migration ever since.

Italy, and other frontline countries where migrants first set foot in the EU, have argued for mandatory relocation.

The new commission plan does not include an obligation for EU countries to take in asylum seekers, instead it offers the option to return someone from a member state under stress.

The member state which choses return will have eight months to do it after which it will be required to take in that person to finalise the return from their own territory.

But the Hungarian prime minister criticised the proposal for what he perceived as only making the relocation obligation more opaque.

"'Allocation' or 'quota', to change the name is not enough. Hungary is against it. The basic approach is still unchanged. They [the commission] would like to manage migration, and not to stop the migrants. The Hungarian position is stop the migrants," Orban said.

On Thursday Austrian prime minister Sebastian Kurz also told AFP that mandatory quotas for refugees for EU countries "won't work".

German interior minister Horst Seehofer, whose country heads the EU presidency, said Wednesday that he would like to see a political agreement on the package in December.

However, the V4's political opposition to some of the key aspects of the plan makes that difficult.

EU home affairs ministers will have their first discussion on the commission's proposals on 8 October.

Budget tangle

The three premiers and von der Leyen also discussed the EU budget and recovery package, climate, and rule of law conditionality linked to the budget.

Poland and Hungary want to make sure that the link between the distribution of EU funds and the respect of the rule of law remains narrow, focusing only on fraud and corruption, before they give the green light to the recovery package.

A spokesperson for von der Leyen said the commission president told the prime ministers that "the ball is in the court of the council" of member states to come up with a common position on the issue.

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