Saturday

17th Nov 2018

Commissioner and Czech minister argue over migration

  • Zaoralek (r) told Timmermans (l) that the EU should focus on "economic and social convergence among EU countries rather than attempts to distribute migrants by forced quotas". (Photo: Prague European Summit)

Almost two years into the migration crisis, the European Commission and countries like the Czech Republic are still at loggerheads over how the EU should react and shape its future.

Sharp divergences were on display on Thursday (15 June) in a debate at the Prague European Summit between EU commission vice president Frans Timmermans and Czech foreign affairs minister Lubomir Zaoralek.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The discussion was taking place two days after the EU executive opened an infringement procedure against the Czech Republic, for having relocated only 12 asylum-seekers as part of the relocation scheme that was launched in the autumn 2015.

It was all the more interesting, as Zaoralek was chosen the night before as his party's candidate for prime minister in the upcoming Czech elections in October.

Zaoralek said that the EU should focus on "economic and social convergence among EU countries, rather than attempts to distribute migrants with forced quotas".

He said that differences in economic development in the EU explained why "the burden of migrants is unevenly distributed" and "why it is so difficult to achieve distribution of migrants".

In Eastern EU countries, he pointed out that "the most vulnerable inhabitants are often poorer than the incoming migrants themselves."

In response, Timmermans called that approach "highly unfair".

He noted that the EU needs to find "a sustainable solution supported by all member states for crisis situations", but insisted on "collective responsibility".

"It cannot be the case that if there is a crisis situation with many refugees and migrants coming to Europe, that just because they arrive in one or two member states, the responsibility to deal with that relies only on one or two member states," he said.

He insisted that the commission's decision to open a case on relocation was "only fair" and that the EU executive "had no other option" because "sadly" no political solution could be found.

He said he "waited as long as [he] could" but that there was no "time left".

Timmermans and Zaoralek shared the same view that Eastern and Western, as well as Northern and Southern Europeans, have too may different narratives and sometimes prejudices about each other.

But the commissioner and the minister expressed opposite views on Europe, as well as on social-democracy, to which they both belong.

No Ukrainian suicide bomber

Zaoralek said that "people who are coming have no real interest in being integrated" and want to live with their "partners from similar cultural, ethnic, religious backgrounds".

He pointed out that the Czech Republic received 30,000 migrants in 2016, mainly from Eastern countries. He added that many came from war-torn Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but at the time "nobody was interested in the religious background".

He said that people in Central and Eastern European countries don't want to "repeat the mistake of the Western countries".

He took the example of "suburbs full of thousands and thousand of people living in imperfect living conditions", which are "very risky, not only during the night but also during the day".

He added that "there are no suicide bombers among Ukrainians or Vietnamese," both of which are long-established communities in the country.

"I find very difficult to take that argument," Timmermans replied, noting that terrorists in Europe were born there and that people coming to the EU are fleeing terrorists in Syria.

"Let's have an open debate about the facts and about the realities of the refugees as well," he said. "They are fellow human beings who, I think, deserve to seek refuge when they flee the barbarism that the jihadists are inflicting upon them."

'Sleeping beauty moment'

Amid these disagreements, Timmermans, who is the commissioner in charge of the rule of law and fundamental rights in the EU, stopped short of calling on Czech people to vote against Zaoralek in the October elections.

He noted that in the UK last week, "the younger generation had its sleeping beauty moment."

"They woke up to use the system because they wanted to change the system," he said, about the vote that stripped the British Conservative Party of its majority in the country's 8 June election.

He said that young Europeans were "post-ideological but very idealistic" and were "taking upon the future now".

Referring to differences over migration policies and the need to solve the problem "together," he went on to say that he counted on young people "to do the same in other elections and to become more active in defending our common European project".

Lack of eligible candidates dogs EU relocation scheme

Member states could fail to meet their refugee quotas even if they wanted to, as strict eligibility rules mean there are few candidates left in Greece and Italy. Sweden is already wondering if it will meet its pledge.

News in Brief

  1. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  2. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  3. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  4. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  5. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  6. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  7. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  8. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May

Opinion

On Armistice Day, EU is still best gift we can give our children

While young people fought each other in 1918, young people in 2018 travel to study together under the Erasmus programme. But there is a risk of limiting our commemoration to representing the past through just speeches, museum exhibits and visits.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK
  2. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  3. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  4. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  5. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  6. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  7. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  8. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us