EU warns Czech Republic over refusal to accept refugees

Central European states maintain hard line despite threat of punishment

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at a press conference in Prague. Photograph: Christian Bruna

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at a press conference in Prague. Photograph: Christian Bruna

 

The European Commission has urged the Czech Republic to drop its refusal to accept refugees under an EU relocation programme, as the bloc prepares to decide whether to take legal action against member states that reject the troubled scheme.

Following terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, Czech interior minister Milan Chovanec announced this week that “due to the aggravated security situation and the dysfunctionality of the whole [relocation] system, the government approved . . . a proposal to halt this system for the Czech Republic.”

“That means the Czech Republic will not be asking for migrants to be relocated from Greece and Italy. ”

The move aligned the Czech Republic with Hungary, Poland and Slovakia in opposing the relocation of refugees to central Europe, under a 2015 plan to move 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy to other EU states by September this year.

The Czech Republic has accepted only 12 refugees from a designated quota of 2,691, and overall fewer that 18,500 of the 160,000 refugees supposedly included in the plan have been offered new homes in Europe.

“I was very displeased to read in the press that the Czech government is considering to halt relocations entirely,” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said during a visit to Prague. “I sincerely hope that, as in so many other cases, European reason, spirit and values will prevail and that the Czech government will reconsider its course so that we do not have to resort to legal infringement procedures, [which] we will do if nothing changes.”

Internal politics

Czech parties are positioning ahead of parliamentary elections in October, and polls suggest most of the country’s electorate opposes a liberal immigration policy.

“I am trying to understand national sensitivities about this matter. But more than just a principle, solidarity is a state of mind that goes to the very heart of what the EU is about. Solidarity is also not a one-way street,” Mr Juncker said.

The EU has said it will decide this month whether to punish countries that refuse to take their allotted quotas of refugees.

“I call on Poland and Hungary who have not relocated a single person . . . to start doing so right now,” EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said recently. “If no action is taken by them before [our] next report in June, the Commission will not hesitate . . . to open infringement procedures.”

Hungary, like its neighbours, insists the mostly Muslim refugees would pose a grave security risk.

Poland’s right-wing president, Andrzej Duda, said this week that he could call for a referendum on refugee policy to coincide with parliamentary elections scheduled for 2019. “That would allow the new government to hear the clear voice of the nation on the issue,” he said.