Saturday

18th Nov 2017

Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland face EU sanctions on migrants

The European Commission is launching sanctions against the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland over an EU asylum scheme.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters in Strasbourg on Tuesday (13 June) that all three states had neglected their legal obligations to take in asylum seekers from Italy and Greece.

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"These are the three member states that have not, I repeat, have not done anything for more than one year or even for the whole duration of the scheme," he said.

The two-year relocation programme, which is due to end in September, has failed to deliver on its initial aim to relocate some 160,000 people in need of international protection from Italy and Greece.

While the original target figure has since been lowered to those deemed eligible, only around 20,000 had so far been distributed to other member states as of this month.

"These are people who have been very thoroughly identified, screened, and fingerprinted," said Avramopoulos.

The Commission decided to take legal action against Hungary for not relocating anyone and for not having pledged any space for their arrival since the launch of the scheme almost two years ago.

Poland had pledged space in 2015 but has yet to host anyone and the Czech Republic has only taken in 12 asylum seekers. Prague has also not pledged any places since May 2016.

"The relocation scheme legally obliges that member states, all member states pledges at least every three months," noted Avramopoulos.

Avramopoulos said the blockade against the scheme also risked forcing people into the hands of human smugglers.

Blackmail

All three EU states have refused to cooperate due to stated concerns on security, national identity, and sovereignty.

Poland's interior minister Mariusz Blaszczak on Tuesday told Polish radio that the scheme "only encourages further waves of migration".

He also lambasted multiculturalism and appeared to suggest that Muslims who came to Europe should convert to Christianity as a possible solution to their integration into Western society.

Poland's foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski has described the Commission sanctions as blackmail.

"We do not agree with such blackmail, with the notion that if you do not accept migrants you are not showing solidarity, and you will be financially punished and maybe have your funds, European subsidies, cut," he said on Monday at a joint-press conference in Warsaw with Hungary's foreign minister, held ahead of the Commission decision.

Waszczykowski said that the Commission's legal action would likely take years to resolve at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

His views were echoed by Hungary's foreign minister Peter Szijjarto.

Szijjarto on Tuesday said the infringements against member states that were unwilling to settle asylum-seekers according to an EU-wide quota was "blackmail and un-European behaviour”.

“Even the European Commission cannot take away the right of a member state to decide whom to let in, and whom it wants to live with and whom it does not want to live with," he was quoted as saying by Hungary’s news agency MTI.

Szijjarto repeated that the government would not budge in the face of “blackmailing” from the European Commission that “overreaches its powers”, and that Hungary would not allow anyone to enter its territory illegally.

He added that the EU should instead tackle the root causes of migration. He pointed to the terror organisation Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as a principal cause, and said that it should be tackled via wider international cooperation.

"Most refugees are elsewhere, they are in the neighbouring countries of Syria”, he added, indicating that they had already found safety without going to the EU.

The Czech Republic last week said it would boycott the EU quotas because of security fears.

Austria managed to evade sanctions by agreeing to take in more people, but its foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, said Vienna wanted to completely seal the Mediterranean sea route.

Kurz said people rescued at sea should be taken to camps in Tunisia and Egypt instead of being brought to Europe.

Over 60,000 people have so far landed in Italy from the north African coast since the start of the year, with an estimated 1,700 dying in the attempt.

Italy's interior under-secretary, Domenico Manzione, told MEPs last week that relocation has failed to deliver on its stated aims.

"Europe seems to want to pick out the weaknesses in any system rather than show more solidarity," he said.

EU parliament

Senior MEPs also weighed in on the issue in the lead up to the Commission's announcement.

The European Parliament's largest political group, the centre-right EPP, appeared opposed to sanctions and wanted the issue sorted by heads of state and government at the European Council.

"We have to find a common understanding, we shouldn't force each other, we should talk to each other first of all," the EPP leader, German MEP Manfred Weber, said.

The Greens said EU states were exacerbating the problem by exporting weapons to conflict areas in the Middle East and further afield.

German Green MEP Ska Keller, who co-chairs the group, told reporters that the EU's unfair trade, agriculture, and fishery policies also aggravated poverty and conflict in some countries.

"Relocation doesn't solve all of our problems, but relocation was and is nevertheless an important step," she said.

This article was corrected and updated on 14 June 2017 at 15.50. It had originally stated that the Czech Republic had not made any pledges since May 2015, when in fact it had not made any pledges since May 2016.

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The Czech Republic and the European Commission appear to be gearing up for a legal battle following announcements by Prague to suspend the relocation of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy.

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