Czech and Slovak leaders present common views on “migration solidarity” in Berlin

Robert Fico, Angela Merkel, Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: CTK

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the heads of government of the Czech Republic and Slovakia in Berlin on Monday to mark a quarter of a century since the signing of a milestone treaty on goodneighbourly relations. However the successes of past years were overshadowed by the challenges of the present: the migrant crisis, Brexit and the controversial German road toll.

Robert Fico,  Angela Merkel,  Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
It was all smiles and handshakes as the three heads of government posed for photographers at a meeting held to mark 25 years since the signing of the German-Czechoslovak Treaty on Goodneighbourly Relations. However the accent at the Berlin talks was on the present and the need to find common ground on divisive issues. And possibly the most divisive issue between Germany and the countries of the former eastern bloc is that of migration. Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia have rejected the concept of mandatory migrant quotas and Slovakia even filed a lawsuit against the EC over the matter. Chancellor Merkel said that at this point it was clear a different solution would have to be sought.

“We have done everything possible to promote this solution, but it is clear that the issue of refugee quotas is extremely sensitive in some EU member countries. Still, I think that some form of solidarity in this matter is essential in Europe.”

The Czech and Slovak prime ministers presented a united stand at the talks, stressing the need for individual EU member states to be allowed to decide on what form of solidarity they wanted to offer, be it aiding the countries from which people are fleeing, helping the states hardest hit by the migrant wave or actively contributing to a better protection of the EUs outer borders. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the Czech Republic had been actively engaged in this alternative form of assistance for some time.

“One of the areas in which we are cooperating with Germany is providing aid to a refugee camp in Jordan. This is precisely the kind of project that the Czech Republic would be ready and willing to engage in on a broader scale.”

Illustrative photo: UNmigration via / CC BY-NC-ND
The Czech government recently earmarked 150 million crowns for aid to countries most affected by the migrant crisis. The first 40 million crowns should go to the said Azrak refugee camp in Jordan which currently houses 31,000 refugees. Another 20 million should go to Iraq and 55 million to Serbia and Macedonia. It moreover sent soldiers and police officers to help patrol the borders of Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and Greece at the height of the migrant crisis. Prague and Bratislava are hoping that this form of solidarity will be an acceptable alternative to taking in migrants.

As regards the Brexit talks the Czech and Slovak prime ministers stressed the need for the EU to hold a united line in the talks and learn the lessons from Brexit as regards the need for reform. Prime Minister Sobotka said that ideally Brexit should be regarded as a challenge; a challenge for EU members to take stock of what they have in common, what advantages the alliance affords and how to make it more attractive and comprehensible to the public. As Prague and Bratislava see it, the German road toll, to be introduced in 2019, is not a good example of this, since it discriminates EU drivers outside of Germany. Prague for its part is still considering whether to join an international lawsuit against it.