24th Oct 2016

Eastern EU states want migration 'plan B'

Eastern EU countries want to see an alternative plan on Europe’s migration policy by mid-March, their leaders have said.

However, during a conference in Prague on Monday (15 February), Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic held off on plans to help Macedonia and Bulgaria seal their borders with Greece to stem the flow of migrants.

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But the leaders of the so-called Visegrad Group said they were ready to help Bulgaria and Macedonia to strengthen the protection of their borders if other measures failed.

The prime ministers, who met their Macedonian and Bulgarian counterparts in Prague, called for the swift establishment of the common European Border and Coast Guard and credible results from a deal with Turkey on stemming the influx of migrants.

The leaders also warned that if Europe's migration policy continued to fail by the time of the March EU summit, an alternative would have to be put in place.

“At the same time, an alternative back up plan ready for implementation should be developed in case the progress in border protection and cooperation with Turkey falls short of expectations,” they said in a joint statement.

“The March European Council should then decide on the next steps.”

Work with Greece

The Visegrad group, founded 25 years ago to further the nations' European integration, has been revitalised by its unified opposition to accepting large numbers of migrants.

Their attitudes are a stark contrast to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming policy towards migrants, a divide to be highlighted when EU leaders gather in Brussels for a summit on Thursday and Friday.

Referring to Merkel's promise last summer to welcome asylum seekers from Syria, Slovak PM Rober Fico said: “It wasn’t us who invited migrants to our territory and it wasn’t us who destabilised the countries from which these people come.

“Certain European politicians made big mistakes in the migrant crisis.”

The Visegrad leaders, while emphasising the need for common solutions, also criticised the EU’s migration policy.

“Hungary’s position is that what Europe has done so far is a failure, has led to trouble, terrorism, violence and fear,” Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban said.

Hungary has already sent personnel to Macedonia to assist border guards. Slovakia offered 300 policemen.

Orban has long criticised Greece for failing to protect the EU’s external borders in the south and argued that a “second line of defence” needed to be established at the Macedonian and Bulgarian side of the border, practically cutting off Greece from the 26-member passport free Schengen area.

That idea has been gaining ground among European policy makers, as the EU last Friday gave notice to Athens that its failure to control hundreds of thousands of refugees arriving via Turkey over the past year would see a long-term suspension of some passport-free travel.

"We don't think that closing borders is the response. We prefer managing borders," a commission spokesman said on Monday.

“The European response to the refugee crisis will be done with Greece, not against Greece.”

However Polish PM Beata Szydlo insisted "the alternate plan is not aimed against any EU partner".

Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka is expected to present the V4 position to Tusk in Prague on Tuesday.

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