One state can’t handle refugee crisis alone, German minister tells V4 counterparts

Lubomír Zaorálek, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, photo: CTK

The foreign ministers of the Visegrad Four countries, Germany and Luxembourg met in Prague on Friday to discuss Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis. Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier insisted on EU states sharing the burden, while his Visegrad counterparts may have shown the first hints of division over the issue of quotas.

Lubomír Zaorálek, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, photo: CTK
A week ago the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary reiterated their countries’ opposition to EU proposals for refugee quotas at a meeting in Prague.

This time it was the turn of the Visegrad Four foreign ministers, along with their counterparts from Germany, the strongest backer of the quota plan, and Luxembourg, which currently holds the EU presidency and also supports “relocation”.

Between the two meetings the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced details of a plan to resettle a total of 160,000 refugees, significantly expanding on previous goals.

Just prior to Friday’s meeting the Czech foreign minister, Lubomír Zaorálek, seemed to perhaps signal a change in his country’s position, telling news websites that Prague did not want to be perceived as putting a brake on agreement on the quotas issue.

During a news conference alongside the other five foreign ministers Mr. Zaorálek said “cracks” had recently appeared between “old Europe” and Central and Eastern European states. But, he said, he supported a common, comprehensive European solution.

Hungary-Serbia border, photo: CTK
“We’re glad that in the new European Commission material it states that it is important to ensure thorough protection of borders. To differentiate legitimate refugees from economic migrants. To work on a functioning returns policy. To unify the asylum procedure. A very important point that we feel needs more attention is the creation of so-called hot spots, places where registration will take place and which will help us ascertain who is actually coming to us; on that basis we can decide how we will proceed further.”

The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, described the refugee crisis as the biggest challenge ever faced by the European Union. Berlin is expecting to take in at least 800,000 asylum seekers this year and Mr. Steinmeier said that one country simply couldn’t handle such numbers alone.

Against the backdrop of talk about a rift between West and East on the matter, the German diplomatic chief cautioned against a “blame game”. He did say, however, that there were points on which he and his Visegrad Four colleagues were at odds.

Mr. Steinmeier said the issue of future migrants also needed to be considered, adding that there should be a just mechanism of division of migrants.

When the German minister left the news conference early because of another engagement, Mr. Zaorálek said he and his regional counterparts were going back to the negotiating table to continue their discussion.

Photo: CTK
But if members of the Visegrad group do continue to dig their heels in, they look likely to be outvoted on the quotas issue. It will be decided by qualified majority, meaning a veto is not possible.

The next step in the process will be a meeting of EU interior and justice ministers in Luxembourg on Monday. The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said on Friday that if agreement is not reached then he will convene a special meeting of heads of government for later this month.