Visegrad threatens veto against any Brexit deal restricting free movement

Visegrad threatens veto against any Brexit deal restricting free movement
The Brexit threat to workers from the region provokes a rare point of full agreement amongst Visegrad leaders
By bne IntelliNews September 19, 2016

Slovakia and its Visegrad peers are ready to protect the rights of their citizens living and working in the UK and will veto any Brexit deal that would restrict the free movement of labour, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said on September 17.

European Union leaders met in Bratislava on September 16 at an informal summit, the first since Britain voted to leave the union. Slovakia took over the EU’s rotating presidency on July 1.

Whilst the likes of Hungary and Poland had threatened ahead of the summit to launch a "revolution" within the bloc, the meetings went quietly for the most part, as Brussels had hoped. It was only the idea of a Brexit that would threaten to restrict the thousands of workers from Visegrad that produced any real drama.

The Slovak government and its peers in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland - want a guarantee that their nationals “are equal” before agreeing to any Brexit deal, Fico said. “The V4 countries will be uncompromising. Unless we feel a guarantee that these people (living and working in Britain) are equal, we will veto any agreement between the EU and Britain,” Fico told Reuters in an interview.

“I think Britain knows this is an issue for us where there's no room for compromise,” Fico added. Ahead of the UK referendum in June, then British PM David Cameron had toured Visegrad in a bid to sell the introduction of some limits on welfare benefits for EU nationals in Britain.

The Central European countries somewhat unwillingly agreed in the hope Brexit could be averted. However, now that they are due to lose their political ally against the German/French axis within the EU, they have little motivation to compromise. The Visegrad states will not allow their nationals to become “second-class citizens,” the Slovak premier thundered.

Continuing, Fico said the group of four - which in reality find it difficult to establish agreement on most issues - will continue to defend common positions. The region's stance is sometimes more “pragmatic” than other EU nations owing to the four states’ history since the World War II and the collapse of the communist bloc, he claimed.

The Slovak PM said he wants to see more steps on migration in the new road map the EU is drawing up for the post Brexit period. The UK is understood to be intending to formally start the process of leaving the bloc early next year. 

The Visegrad countries have been among the harshest critics of EU migration and refugee policy. Slovakia has launched a suit in the European Court of Justice against the way mandatory migrant quotas were passed by the European Council.

“Migration policy should be based on the principle of the “flexible solidarity,” the Visegrad Four said in a joint statement presented at the Bratislava summit. "This concept should enable Member States to decide on specific forms of contribution taking into account their experience and potential. Furthermore any distribution mechanism should be voluntary,” the statement reads.