Czech PM defends need to preserve Schengen open space

Defense minister Martin Stropnický, Bohuslav Sobotka, chairman of the Senate Milan Štěch, Miloš Zeman, chairman of the lower house of parliament Jan Hamáček, foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek, interior minister Milan Chovanec, photo: CTK

Ahead of the two-day EU summit in Brussels, the Czech Republic’s top officials met for foreign policy consultations at Prague Castle. The talks outlined two main priorities that the Czech Republic wants to defend at the summit – the need to preserve the Schengen open space and the creation of a joint border and coast guard which would help control the flow of migrants to Europe.

Defense minister Martin Stropnický, Bohuslav Sobotka, chairman of the Senate Milan Štěch, Miloš Zeman, chairman of the lower house of parliament Jan Hamáček, foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek, interior minister Milan Chovanec, photo: CTK
While Czech top officials do not always see eye to eye on various aspects of the migrant crisis, there was general agreement on the need to preserve the Schengen open space through a concerted effort of EU member states and by jointly beefing-up security at Schengen’s outer borders. The prime minister said he would push for the Brussels summit to make a firm commitment to prevent the fragmentation of Schengen.

“Schengen is now under threat as a result of proposals being floated – for instance in the Netherlands – on the creation of a “mini-Schengen” of select countries which would exclude the EU newcomers admitted in 2004. I consider these initiatives to be extremely dangerous.”

In a letter sent to EU heads of governments on the eve of the summit, the Czech prime minister argued that Schengen is a symbol of the EU’s functionality and its demise would undermine public trust in the alliance across the board as well as fueling nationalist and xenophobic sentiments on the continent. The Czech head of government said his country was ready to actively participate in securing Schengen’s outer border and he welcomed the EC’s initiative to create a common border and coast guard.

Wednesday’s meeting attended by the president, prime minister, the ministers of foreign affairs, defense and the interior as well as the speakers of both houses of Parliament likewise stressed the need to maintain the broadest possible coalition in the fight against terrorism and the Islamic State. In this matter the prime minister touched upon differences of opinion between the government and President Miloš Zeman, who is known for his fiery anti-Islamic rhetoric.

Photo: Dragan Tatic, CC BY 2.0
“One of the things we discussed was the need to differentiate between Muslims. I defended the view that if the international community is to destroy Islamic State it will need to find allies in the Islamic world, allies among moderate Muslims who are also fighting terrorism and who also want to see Islamic State beaten and the radicals suppressed.”

In a joint proclamation issued after the talks, Czech top officials stress that the migrant crisis can only be solved by addressing its causes in the countries of origin and by a functioning security system on Schengen’s outer borders which would separate war refugees from economic migrants. They also emphasize the significance of the alliance of Višegrad group states as a means of defending Czech and central European interests within the EU.