Visegrad leaders debate back-up plan for migrant crisis

Photo: CTK

The leaders of the Visegrad Four and representatives from Macedonia and Bulgaria met in Prague on Monday to discuss plans for closing the Macedonian and Bulgarian borders with Greece, should Athens and Ankara fail to meet their obligations in bringing the flow of migrants under control. Although the Visegrad group insists this is merely a back-up plan, the summit has raised concern about new divisions in Europe.

Robert Fico,  Beata Szydlo,  Gjorge Ivanov,  Bohuslav Sobotka,  Boyko Borisov,  Viktor Orbán,  photo: CTK
The closely-watched Visegrad summit in Prague started on a celebratory note on Monday as the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary jointly sliced into a huge cake on the occasion of the alliance’s 25th birthday.

The mood backstage however was far from relaxed as the six leaders discussed what the media have dubbed Plan B for the migrant crisis – involving the closing of borders between Macedonia and Greece and Bulgaria and Greece should Athens and Ankara fail to meet their obligations in bringing the flow of migrants under control. This would in effect move the EU buffer zone to Bulgaria’s and Macedonia’s borders –although the latter is not a member of the EU and Bulgaria is not a member of Schengen- and cut off Greece in the process.

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka stressed after the talks that this was merely a back-up plan and essential as it was to have one, the Visegrad group remained committed to supporting the EU agreements reached with Turkey and Greece.

“I want to stress that we have agreed on the need to support a joint European solution. The migrant crisis is our common problem and the only way forward is for us to find a joint solution.”

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
The reason for Plan B is growing skepticism that Germany’s plans involving Turkey and Greece will bring results. The Visegrad group states fear that if Athens and Ankara fail to deliver on their promises and Germany and Austria should close their borders, the new wave of refugees expected in the spring would be caught in the space in-between. They say a final decision on the migrant crisis has to come in March and if by then there are no signs of improvement, the Visegrad group will push for the implementation of Plan B, or what the Hungarian prime minister describes as “a second line of defense”. In the meantime, the Czech prime minister said the countries of the Visegrad group would do their utmost to assist Greece and Turkey in stemming the migrant flow. The prime minister of Greece was reportedly invited to the summit, but could not attend for time reasons. He is expected to visit Prague in the near future.

Meanwhile, with the EU summit on migration due to begin on Thursday, commentators are speculating on how the plans discussed at the Visegrad summit will affect the mood in the 28-member bloc. The majority of German papers view Plan B as a rebellion of the Visegrad four against the migration policies of Chancellor Merkel, noting that never before had Germany been so isolated in the European Union.