Czech Republic calls Visegrad summit over threats to Schengen

By bne IntelliNews January 26, 2016

The Czech Republic has called a special meeting of the Visegrad countries to discuss efforts to reinforce borders of the Schengen zone, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on January 26. The four countries are alarmed by the continued threat to free movement in the passport free area as the continent continues to struggle with the migrant crisis.

The Visegrad Four, which also includes Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, will meet on February 15, three days before an EU summit that will discuss the crisis. Sobotka said the EU must be ready with a back-up plan to reinforce its borders until Turkey and Greece do more to reduce the number of refugees entering the bloc, Radio Prague reports.

More than 1mn refugees streamed into Europe last year. Over 40,000 have arrived in Greece by sea from Turkey so far this year, despite a deal with Ankara two months ago to lower the number of Syrian refugees. That has seen temporary borders springing up across the Schengen zone. While Visegrad has led opposition to the EU's efforts to accomodate more refugees, the four countries have also fought tigerishly against any threat to Schengen.

Dutch Migration Minister Klaas Dijkhoff said on January 25 that EU countries have asked the European Commission to prepare for the extension of temporary border controls for up to two years. "Currently, the temporary border measures can be taken only for a limited period of six months. But the unprecedented influx of asylum seekers, which compelled member states to take these measures nationally, have not decreased yet," Dijkhoff told a news conference.

Visegrad is pushing to make the border-free zone's external borders the focus. “Greece has not been able to provide (border) protection,” Sobotka said in a televised news conference with Slovak counterpart Robert Fico in Bratislava, according to Reuters. “We have to put pressure on Turkey to fulfill its agreements with the EU. We have to insist that Greece, as far as it is in Schengen, meets its requirements.”

Any suspension of free movement in Schengen would be detrimental for the open economies of the four Central European countries due to their exceedingly high dependence on exports to their neighbours.

Slovak exports equalled 92% of GDP in 2014, according to the World Bank, and over 80% of those exports head to the EU. The Czech Republic and Hungary are similarly dependent on shipping goods easily and quickly around the bloc. The supply chain for German industry constitutes a huge chunk of demand.

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