Border check spat expected to take centre stage at Czech and Slovak PM meeting

Prime Minister Petr Fiala is meeting with his Slovak counterpart Eduard Heger this Thursday in Prague. The chief topic on the agenda is the issue of illegal migration and the associated border controls between the two countries which the Czech government recently reinstated. Slovakia is unhappy with the Czech measure, arguing that it goes against Schengen Area rules.

Czechia reinstated controls on its border with Slovakia on September 28. Originally, the plan was to deploy 500 police officers and 60 customs officers for a period of just 10 days in order to discourage illegal migrants, mainly from Afghanistan and Syria, from using this route into Germany. A month-and-a-half later, these checks are still in place, having already been extended twice.

The Slovak side has raised issue with the border controls several times over this period with Slovak Interior Minister Roman Mikulec claiming last week that the measure was in contradiction to the EU readmission agreement.

“More of these people are coming here from Czechia, I mean those who are being returned, than those who are coming into Slovakia via the [Western Balkan] migrant route from Hungary. We need to actively communicate this to the Czech side.”

Eduard Heger | Photo: Evropská lidová strana,  Flickr,  CC BY 2.0

On Wednesday, a day ahead of a scheduled meeting with his Czech counterpart, Slovak Premier Eduard Heger restated Slovakia’s point, saying that the situation cannot continue as it is and that controls should instead be strengthened on the external Schengen Area border between Hungary and Serbia, where Slovakia is sending more police officers.

“It is necessary to realise that Slovakia is part of Schengen precisely so that we do not have to have internal border checks. That is why we are strengthening the external border.”

It is not just Slovakia that has reservations about the border controls and their effect. Hundreds of Czech locals from the South Moravian town of Holešov, one of the locations used by Czech Police to register the detained migrants, have signed a petition aimed at the interior minister asking him to move the site to a different place, news site Seznam Zprávy reports.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala defended the Czech government’s decision on Wednesday.

Petr Fiala | Photo: Office of Czech Government

“We are not happy about reinstating controls on the Czech-Slovak border. We are aware of the impact that this has. However, we had to react to the situation. The measures we took really are working and that is important. We are able to weaken and interrupt this [illegal migration] route.”

Interior Minister Vít Rakušan, who is expected to join the meeting of the heads of government together with his Slovak counterpart, sounded sceptical about prospects for a quick solution to the issue.

“Unfortunately the wave of migrants coming across the Slovak border into Czechia flowed without any significant action being taken by the Slovak side. We had several meetings but no compromise could be found.

Migrants in Kúty near the Czech-Slovak border | Photo: Ladislav Novák,  Czech Radio

“I really don’t think that the result of the meeting will lead to some sort of immediate end to the border controls taking place.”

Czechia’s latest extension of the border checks set the end date at December 12. However, Czech Television reports that the country would theoretically be able to legally extend the border controls for a total period of up to half a year according to relevant EU legislation, unless the European Commission were to oppose it.

Authors: Thomas McEnchroe , Ladislav Novák
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