Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec is heading for Friday’s talks in Brussels with a clear-cut mandate: the Czech Republic will actively support measures to tighten controls on Schengen’s outer borders and improve the efficiency of registration hotspots, but remains adamantly against a permanent redistribution mechanism.
Despite indications that the EU-Turkey deal on stemming the flow of illegal migrants to Europe is working, the Czech government remains firmly convinced of the need to increase security on Schengen’s outer borders. In a report presented to the cabinet on Wednesday, Interior Minister Chovanec said that as one route closed, alternate migrant routes were being revived that could soon present a big problem. One of those is the so-called Italian route along which migrant traffic has now increased by a quarter as compared to the same period last year. Minister Chovanec says that left unchecked traffic along this route could soon swell several-fold.
Milan Chovanec, photo: Filip Jandourek
“It is unlikely that we would see millions of migrants along this route, but hundreds of thousands could be a realistic estimate. According to information we have, there have also been increased attempts to filter migrants though Hungary. Migrants are seeking ways to cross the “green border” and Hungarian border patrols are having a harder time preventing illegal crossings.”
The Czech Republic has repeatedly called for closer EU cooperation in boosting the work of the Frontex agency and has sent its own police officers to help reinforce other countries’ borders upon request. Czech officers helped patrol borders in Hungary and Slovenia and a group of them are now working in Greece, where they are helping to return illegal migrants to Turkey. Minister Chovanec says such isolated efforts are insufficient and coordinated EU action is needed along the whole Schengen outer border. Moreover he claims there are not enough registration hotspots, with just four of them functioning in Greece and six in Italy.
“What Europe needs now is proper border security and efficient hotspots – not experiments with quotas” minister Chovanec tweeted following Wednesday’s cabinet session. The message to Brussels is clear: protect Europe from more illegal migrants, rather than seeking ways to share them out. This is an issue that the Czech Republic has sought to reach agreement on within the Visegrad Group and has received strong backing from Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. And the Czech government, which previously refused to join Hungary and Slovakia in taking the quota issue to court, has warned that it would not hesitate to do so if it were outvoted on the matter of a permanent redistribution mechanism. On this matter it has full backing from the lower house of Parliament where opposition parties have long criticized it for being “overly soft” on the migrant issue. As regards visa-free travel for Turkish nationals, Prague says that Ankara should not be given exceptions and should be made to fulfill all of the set criteria. It is also pushing for a clause in the agreement which would enable visas to be reintroduced in the event of serious security risks.