Sunday

20th Aug 2017

EU threatens sanctions in Czech asylum row

  • Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka (c) will be meeting Jean-Claude Juncker later this week.

The European Commission threatened to take governments to court on Tuesday (6 June) following an announcement by the Czech Republic to halt asylum seeker relocation from Greece and Italy.

Czech interior minister Milan Chovanec had earlier this week said that the country would withdraw from the legally binding EU scheme, over broader concerns linked to security and the "dysfunctionality of the whole system".

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The timing of the statement is likely to sour EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's visit to Prague this Thursday and Friday.

Juncker told the Czech tabloid, Blesk, in an interview published early Tuesday that all EU states need to shoulder "solidarity and responsibility" when it comes to migration.

"The Czech Republic has so far only relocated 12 people last year and none since. There is a big scope for the Czech Republic to do more," he said.

The Czech Republic had committed to take in 2,691.

A similar message was issued by EU commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud, who told reporters in Brussels that EU states need to start relocating people and pledging places, or face sanctions.

The two-year scheme has largely failed to deliver on its initial promise to redistribute migrants that had arrived in Italy and Greece.

Originally the scheme aimed to relocate some 160,000 people in need of international protection by the upcoming September deadline, but only around 18,500 had been relocated as of last month.

The projected target figures have since been lowered, but the issue still remains a big political fault line among EU states, some of which, such as the Czech Republic, will also soon face national elections.

"In my opinion it's just a political message for voters, assuring them that we will not bring new comers who could be dangerous, which is nonsense," Martin Rozumek, executive director of the Prague-based Organisation for Aid to Refugees, told EUobserver.

Rozumek also noted that the majority of the 12 relocated asylum seekers taken in by the Czech Republic had integrated well into society. "They lead normal lives," he said, noting that one had recently given birth.

The commission will issue another report next week, in which it may announce infringements against the Czech Republic and a handful of other EU states.

"We would use the occasion in the report in June to further specify our position on the opening of infringement cases," said Bertaud.

The most recent report, published mid-May, had already flagged up the Czech Republic – along with Austria, Hungary, and Poland – as having major problems.

Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Germany, Slovakia and Spain were also told to step up monthly pledges on accepting incoming relocated asylum seekers.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos had earlier said that it was a question of "political and institutional credibility for the European Union" to take action if nothing is done.

Solidarity and court battles

But the issue also has wider implications on solidarity and on the reform of migration policies, which are currently being subjected to heated talks.

EU states had only earlier this year in Rome signed a declaration that pledged "even greater unity and solidarity." That "unity and solidarity" appears increasingly stretched as the migration debates continue to simmer.

The Maltese EU presidency is steering the reforms in the Council of the EU, which represents member states, and has since largely conceded defeat in its attempt to get EU states to reach a consensus by the end of June on the reform of a key EU asylum law known as Dublin.

The Dublin regulation determines which EU state is responsible for processing asylum claims on the behalf of everyone else. The law has come under numerous revisions, with the latest proposal including plans to make sure everyone shoulders some of the cases in times of crisis. But efforts to balance responsibility and solidarity under the reformed law was largely undermined by half a dozen EU states.

One senior EU diplomat said attempts to reach an agreement, despite "endless amounts of bilateral discussions", means the Dublin reform will have to be dealt with by heads of state and government in the European Council.

The issue is also likely to be discussed on Friday, during a meeting among interior ministers in Luxembourg.

However, for the moment, the focus of those talks are scheduled around sending unwanted people and rejected asylum seekers back to their home countries.

Anti-EU rhetoric props up Czech election race

The recent decision to stop taking asylum seekers is the latest sign of growing euroscepticism ahead of elections in October, with billionaire Andrej Babis as favourite.

NGOs divided by Italy's new rescue code

Five charities have refused to sign up to Italy's EU-backed code of conduct for NGOs that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean sea, saying the new rules put lives at risk.

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