Interior Ministry plans retaliatory measures to stop German police harassment

One and a half years after the Czech Republic’s entry into the border-free Schengen zone and its citizens are still falling victim to discriminatory police checks on the German side of the border, or so the Czech Interior Ministry insists. Now, the ministry is planning a system of retaliatory, tit-for-tat measures in a bid to make German police change their tack.

Allegations that German police are harassing Czech travelers on the German side of the border are nothing new. Last April, former Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek spoke out against the disproportionately high number of supposedly random checks that, he said, Czech citizens were falling victim to across the border. At the time the German Embassy denied the allegations, on Saturday, it said that nothing had changed. Here’s what spokesman Sebastian Gerhardt had to say to Radio Prague back then:

“The controls the German police are doing are strictly according to the regulations of the Schengen codex. And we do it of course on the basis of random examinations. Also German citizens are included in these examinations. So, we don’t see it as harassment, but we see it as necessary in order to strengthen the space of freedom and security, and the rule of law, within the European Union.”

Over a year, and several complaints to the European Union, later, and the Czech Interior Ministry has had enough. The ministry’s Šárka Machotková says the German Embassy has got it just plain wrong:

“We do not agree with this statement, because we know that the German authorities rely upon the Schengen borders code, but we think that certain parts of the code are not applied in practice. This means that we consider the checks carried out by German customs and police authorities as being equivalent to border checks. And we think that they are not even equivalent to border checks, we think they are carried out in a worse or more strict way than they were when the Czech border with Germany was a non-Schengen, external border.”

Over the past year and a half, the Czech Interior Ministry has received around 60 complaints from Czechs who said they were treated in a humiliating or demeaning way by German police. According to Šárka Machotková, Czechs have been singled out by German police either by their number-plates, or when traveling on public transport.

One such Czech is René Kmeťová, who was stopped when traveling to Germany this May with her 16-year-old stepdaughter:

“There were Australians, there were Japanese, and of course lots and lots of Germans in the train, and the police opened the door to each compartment and said ‘are there any Czechs in here?’ And when they didn’t find any other Czechs, they came back to us and wanted to check our identity documents for the second time. So, we showed them our passports and our ID cards again. They had already checked our backpack, so they didn’t do that, but this time they wanted to check our pockets. Then they went away. By that time I didn’t know where we were, so I asked them when we would get to Furth im Wald, they said we had missed that stop.”

According to Mrs Kmeťová, this gave police the idea to check her and her stepdaughter’s tickets, which were only valid as far as Furth im Wald. The pair were taken to a police station and detained for traveling with invalid tickets.

It is this, and other such stories, which have prompted the Interior Ministry to act. They say new checks will come into place here in the coming months. Here’s Šárka Machotková again:

“We have been waiting for a long time because we have been monitoring the situation and trying to negotiate with our German partners to find some measures that would be acceptable and in full compliance with the Schengen rules from our point of view. At some stage about a month ago, we came to the conclusion that there is no other way to ensure this balance than by applying certain measures. We have no other way of trying to find some change and hopefully put forward some change on the German side of the border.”

The ministry won’t say exactly which sort of checks they plan to introduce, but they hope that, sooner or later, such actions will succeed where dialogue has failed.