Topolánek, Gusenbauer discuss Schengen & illegal migration

Mirek Topolánek and Alfred Gusenbauer, photo: CTK

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek was on an official visit to Vienna on Monday to meet with Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer for a day of talks that included discussions on the Czech Republic’s Temelín nuclear power plant and the upcoming EU presidencies. But it was the recent enlargement of the EU’s Schengen zone that was arguably the most dominant. Since the relaxation of border controls last month Austria has seen a rapid new influx of illegal migrants and on Monday both Czech and Austrian representatives pledged that more would be done to tackle the problem.

Mirek Topolánek and Alfred Gusenbauer,  photo: CTK
December 21st – the enlargement of the Schengen zone and the relaxing of border controls between the Czech Republic and Austria – was greeted with celebration and fanfare. But enlargement of the zone has not been without growing pains. Since late December, Austria, for example, has seen a marked rise in the number of illegal migrants entering the country, the number of people at its main Traiskirchen refugee camp doubling to more than seven hundred. Austria has complained of migrants making their way across internal borders “unhindered” and on Monday Chancellor Gusenbauer called it “unacceptable” for anyone who had claimed asylum in either Poland or the Czech Republic to then move to Austria to complete the asylum process. Czech Prime Minister Topolánek too was critical: he stressed that improving cooperation between both countries in the areas of policing and police intelligence was needed:

“Despite all the positives which had been expected, there has been migration and we have to be able to deal with it.”

Its not that there hasn’t been an effort, even if some of the more visible activities have come up fruitless: at the weekend dozens of Czech police officers came out in force to respond to information that Chechen migrants were apparently en route from Poland. The police searched trains and stations in north Moravia, for the migrants allegedly trying to make their way to Austria. But the search of a number of Vienna-bound trains all came up empty. In the south of the country, still others checked busses, trucks, and cars with Polish license plates, but were equally unsuccessful. Still, officials have made clear that in the future they will continue in precisely this proactive approach.

Photo: CTK
As it turned out, the first successful cross-border cooperation between Czech and Austrian police since the enlargement of the Schengen zone, was not about migration but about cross-border theft. On Monday afternoon a 29-year old Czech national – having allegedly stolen a luxury BMW in Linz - led police on a chase all the way into the Czech Republic. The Austrian authorities were able to inform their Czech counterparts in time, enabling them to try and block the driver’s route. After the car thief successfully “crashed” one police vehicle blocking the road, he was finally apprehended in the region of Český Krumlov. No one was hurt in the incident, and the man is now in custody. Afterwards the Czechs praised the cooperation and agreed this is how work between the Czechs and the Austrians should continue into the future.