Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has congratulated the winner of parliamentary elections in Slovakia, outgoing premier Robert Fico. Sobotka added though that forming a new government would not be easy for what he described as “our closest friends.” Fico’s SMER party won the elections with around 29 percent of the vote but has lost its overall majority in parliament and has been reduced to around a third of the 150 seats. Eight parties claimed a place in parliament, including the far right.
The foreign ministers of the Visegrad Four (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary) met in Prague last week to mark the 25th anniversary of the group’s founding. The talks at Prague’s Černín Palace revolved around past achievements and future goals and carried a strong commitment for the alliance to intensify cooperation.
The V4 supports the European solution to the migrant crisis, the foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary agreed at a meeting in Prague on Thursday. The ministers met at Prague’s Czernin Palace to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Visegrad and evaluate the previous cooperation among the V4 partners. Czech Finance Minister Lubomír Zorálek said after the meeting that the so-called plan B, an alternative back-up plan to stop refugees at Greece’s borders with Bulgaria and Macedonia, has not been discussed.
The attention of Europe will be on Brussels on Thursday when EU leaders meet to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership. However, while the likes of Germany and France are keen to cut a deal and help prevent a possible British exit from the EU, the Czech Republic and the other Visegrad Four states are refusing to accept certain provisions.
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.
Individual European Union states unilaterally protecting their own labour markets is not the answer to the problem of social dumping, the Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, said at the first joint meeting of the tripartites of the Visegrad Four states near Prague. Rather than reforming EU guidelines on using cheaper labour from neighbouring countries, it would be better to implement the existing ones more thoroughly, he told state, employers’ and workers’ representatives from the Central European countries on Tuesday. Mr. Sobotka said the free movement of labour was key to the EU remaining competitive.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka stressed that a European solution to the immigration crisis has to be found. Speaking at the end of the Visegrad summit in Prague Monday, Sobotka said the EU should work for the agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of immigrant to be fulfilled and for Greece to meet its Schengen zone obligations. He also called though for the EU to do more to help Bulgaria and Macedonia bolster their borders if this does not happen. This, so called plan B, has been the source of reported discord with Germany reportedly worried the Central European grouping is pushing a different anti-immigration strategy than its own. Czech Secretary of State for European Affairs said later that there was still time for the Turkey-focused strategy to be shown it could work but an alternative option had to be readied.
The Visegrad four regional grouping adopted the so-called Prague declaration on February 15, the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Central European partnership. The declaration from leaders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, meeting in the Czech capital said that they would seek to strengthen ties between them and that a stronger Visegrad Group could contribute to a stronger Europe. The declaration also stressed the need to keep the EU membership door open to countries in the Balkans and for continued financial aid to countries further east, such as Ukraine, and warned against new dividing lines in Europe. The meeting was attended by the prime minister of Bulgaria and president of Macedonia. Worries had been expressed before the meeting, which partly focused on the ongoing immigration crisis, that a separate Visegrad strategy could undermine German efforts to bolster Turkey as a curb to further immigration into the EU.
Warnings have come from a number of European leaders that the Visegrad Four meeting om immigration should not divide the European Union. Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn cautioned Monday that there was neither a Visegrad nor German solution to the crisis, just a European one. And he warned the regional grouping from becoming a dissenting bloc within the EU. Slovakia’s president, Andrej Kiska, also warned the group not to cause conflict with other European countries. Germany in particular appears to be worried that the grouping of Central European countries is pushing a different strategy from Berlin’s hopes of mainly using Turkey to curb the immigrant inflow.
A Višegrad Four summit on migration in Prague, at which member states and representatives of Bulgaria and Macedonia are discussing ways to enforce Balkan borders has raised hackles in Germany which fears these plans could undermine the EUs agreement with Turkey. With an EU summit on migration just days away and some German commentators predicting a clash between Chancellor Merkel and the Višegrad group, I asked foreign relations expert Michal Kořán from the Prague-based Institute of International Relations, for his take on the matter.
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