Criticism from EU commissioner sparks fresh debate on migrant quotas in Prague

Photo: Fotomovimiento, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

President Miloš Zeman, the country’s most outspoken opponent of migration, has come under fire from EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger, for saying that the Czech Republic should close its doors to all migrants since they would “create fertile ground for barbaric attacks.” The criticism from Brussels has stirred fresh debate on the controversial migrant quotas, underscoring a growing rift on the issue in the government.

Miloš Zeman, photo: Press Department of the President of the Czech Republic
Earlier this week, President Miloš Zeman said he was against the idea of the country accepting even a single migrant, since their resettlement in the Czech Republic would “create fertile ground for barbaric attacks” and suggested that it should be left to Parliament to decide whether the country should take such a risk. His words drew criticism from EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Guenther Oettinger who reminded the president of the country’s commitments and slammed the Czech head of state for “defaming European legislation and weakening Europe as a whole”.

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČT24
The reprimand from Brussels met with a cool response in Prague, where the mainstream parties are either opposed or lukewarm on the issue of accepting migrants. Tweeting while on holiday in France, Finance Minister and ANO leader Andrej Babiš, echoed the president’s call for a special session of Parliament to decide on whether or not the country should accept migrants. “We must do everything in our power to oppose the migrant quotas, on which we were outvoted. It is necessary to respond to people’s fears and ensure their safety, even at the cost of sanctions”, Mr. Babiš said, adding that he had stopped believing in integration and multiculturalism.

Jan Hamáček, photo: Kristýna Maková, Czech Radio - Radio Prague
In the prime minister’s absence, the Speaker of the Lower House Jan Hamáček on Wednesday rejected the idea of calling a special session on the migrant issue. “As Mr. Babis is doubtless aware, the Czech government has made certain commitments on the matter and if he wants the government to change its stand he must call for a meeting of the Cabinet”, Mr. Hamáček said. Social Democrat Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka made it clear earlier that the Czech government would stand by its commitment to take in the close to 2,700 migrants it was allotted within the quota system, while devoting exceptional attention to security vetting.

Speaking for the Christian Democrats, the junior party in the ruling coalition, Agriculture Minister Marian Jurečka also said he saw no reason for Parliament to meet over the matter. “The Czech Republic has a strict and effective migrant policy and it is clear from developments in the past two years that the government is on top of the problem,” Mr. Jurečka said.

Photo: Fotomovimiento, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Interior Minister Milan Chovanec reported on the migrant situation last week, saying that the country would not be taking in any migrants this year, since the security vetting of the 81 who were due to arrive from Turkey in October should take at least until the end of the year and the Greek authorities we “unable to locate” the 10 migrants who were due to resettle from Greece.

Still, despite the fact that the country has only accepted four migrants within the EU quota system, it is beyond doubt that the migrant crisis will become a hot issue in campaigning ahead of the autumn regional and Senate elections.