Czech Republic ready to back EU naval mission but opposed to mandatory migrant quotas

Photo: CTK

The Czech Republic on Monday gave its full backing to EU plans to establish a naval force to combat people-smuggling in the Mediterranean where more than 1,800 migrants have died since the beginning of the year. However the Czech authorities remain opposed to the idea of adopting national quotas for housing migrants, which they say would create unforeseen problems.

Photo: CTK
A two-day summit of EU foreign and defence ministers on the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean on Monday reached agreement to launch a naval operation to crack down on people smugglers operating from Libya. The Czech Republic gave the plan full backing and even offered to contribute to it in whatever way was deemed appropriate. Defence Minister Martin Stropnický:

“Although the Czech Republic is geographically at a distance from the problem we are not renouncing our share of responsibility and are ready to contribute to the operation in some measure – either by sending naval officers, or by offering our aircraft for observer missions. The means of support is still open, though it will not be massive. It could also be a financial contribution. ”

The naval operation is to be launched next month, under Italian command. It will need to be sanctioned by the UN Security Council and require consent from the authorities in Libya in whose territorial waters EU ships will operate. The details are expected to be settled at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in June.

Disrupting the people-smuggling networks in the Mediterranean is only one part of a broader EU plan for tackling the migration crisis. The second, which envisages adopting national quotas for housing migrants, in order to ease the pressure on Italy, Greece and Malta, has evoked far greater controversy. The Czech Republic is one of the countries opposing a mandatory distribution of migrants. Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek argued that acceptance of refugees must be on a voluntary basis in order for the respective member states to assess their capacity, deal with security matters and accept full responsibility for the people they take in.

Lubomír Zaorálek,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“The idea that someone would simply dispatch a given number of refugees to the Czech Republic without us having any say in matter and would basically leave us dealing with a fait accompli is something quite unacceptable and I see it as a serious failing in the proposed plan.”

According to the commission’s proposal, EU countries should accept numbers of asylum seekers corresponding to their population, wealth, and unemployment rate, among other factors. Britain, Ireland and Denmark would not be obliged to take part, under opt-out rules granted in EU treaties. But other EU member states have likewise strongly rejected the idea –among them France, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Baltic states.