Visegrad states meet on refusal of refugee quotas
By Eric Maurice
The prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia are to meet Friday (4 September) in Prague for what looks like a summit of the opponents of EU refugee quotas.
The aim of the meeting is to "co-ordinate the V4 countries’ position so we act together and homogeneously inside the European Union," Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka said, referring to the so-called Visegrad Group.
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The four states aim to announce a common position ahead of the 14 September emergency meeting of EU justice and interior ministers.
The V4, so far, the staunchest opponents of plans to relocate asylum seekers in EU countries from Greece and Italy, are likely to reiterate their previous position.
"I presume we will reaffirm our common refusal of the proposed quotas," Sobotka said, adding: "One has the right to choose the people [one accepts]”.
Hungary's PM Viktor Orban told reporters on Thursday in Brussels: “Quotas are a bluff”.
“Those who are proposing it know full well it won’t work,” he said. He added that "quotas pose a moral problem and will cause more deaths" because they encourage people to try to reach Europe by sea.
The clear refusal of the relocation scheme is shared by Slovakia's PM, Robert Fico.
"We strongly reject any quotas”, he said last Sunday on Slovak TV.
"If a mechanism for automatic redistribution of migrants is adopted, we will wake up one day and have 100,000 people from the Arab world and that is a problem I would not like Slovakia to have”.
Poland, for its part, will accept "a certain number" of refugees, its deputy foreign affairs minister, Rafal Trzaskowski, told the PAP news agency.
He also pointed out, however, that Poland is "responsible for the eastern border of the EU” and that its main concern is a possible influx of refugees from Ukraine in case fighting escalates.
Sharing of duty
The Visegrad stance on the refugee crisis will put the four countries at odds with some of their EU partners.
On Thursday, Germany and France agreed on a common proposal on relocation.
At the 14 September meeting, the two countries will push for a "permanent and mandatory mechanism", French president Francois Hollande told reporters Thursday.
"What has been done now is not enough anymore, and there are countries that do not meet their moral obligations," Hollande said, in what appears to be a direct jab at Visegrad-type views.
The Franco-German position, which amounts to a strong endorsement of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s ideas, comes down to the "principle of solidarity”, German chancellor Angela Merkel said in Switzerland.
For his part, Juncker is, next week, expected to announce a new plan to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, but also Hungary.
Orban still rejects the idea of obligatory quotas and of Hungary being designated a front-line state like Italy or Greece.
But he said on Thursday he would consider any new proposal that could relieve his country, where tens of thousands of migrants have arrived in recent months.
Orban also underlined the cultural and religious dimension of the current debate.
"We do not want a large number of Muslims in our country. No one can force us to accept more than we want," he said Thursday, referring to "Hungary's experience with Muslims" when the country was occupied by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries.
This position echoes Slovakia's decision to accept only Christian Syrians on its territory.
The Czech Republic and Poland have been less explicit.
But Poland already took in 60 Christian-only Syrian families, in an initiative sponsored by a British charity. The Czech Republic is currently in talks to do the same.