Schengen must survive, Slovak politicians say

PRIME Minister Robert Fico and his government continue to voice their opposition to EU-wide quotas on accepting refugees after Hungary closed its borders, and the subsequent reimposition of border checks in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland.

Slovak police checking cars at the border crossing in Berg, Austria. Slovak police checking cars at the border crossing in Berg, Austria. (Source: Sme - Gabriel Kuchta)

“It is not a struggle between good humanist politicians from the old countries and those from the east who have not grown yet,” Fico said in the parliament on September 16. “It is not a struggle between the bad east and the good west, but rather a struggle for the rules of the EU and making sure they are observed.”

The refugee crisis was the opening point of the programme of the parliament session that began September 16. Prime Minister Fico and Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák presented their opinions, both repeating the government’s opposition to quotas, and stressing the need for all countries to consistently observe the Schengen rules.

Calling for a summit

Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák voiced the same position at the extraordinary session of EU interior ministers on September 14 in Brussels, which saw the member states agreement on relocation of 40,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece into other EU countries during the next two years. Slovakia will accept 100 people.

Ministers agreed to create so-called hot-spots, EU-funded and -staffed registration points for arriving refugees and other migrants. But the ministers failed to reach an agreement over relocating 120,000 refugees, said Kaliňák, adding that it was especially countries of the Visegrad Group (V4) that were against the text indicating re-distribution of refugees.

“In general, it can be said that there were too many objections and not only in terms of quotas,” the TASR newswire quoted Kaliňák as saying.

The next extraordinary session of the EU interior ministers is planned for September 22. Several EU member countries, however, would like to hold an extraordinary summit of prime ministers and heads of states dedicated to this question. Kaliňák sees such a crisis summit  as inevitable.  

“In such serious and sensitive matter as a dictate to a country how many people it has to receive, without letting it the possibility to choose those people, it should definitely be a summit that decides it,” Fico said at a September 15 press conference.

The Slovak government will not agree with the quotas even if they are passed next week in Brussels with a qualified majority in the EU council, since “it is not possible to force sovereign countries whom and under what circumstances they must accept on their territory”, the TASR newswire quoted Fico as saying.

“That would be the end of the illusion of small states that they have their say in the EU,” Fico said.

Schengen questioned

Speaking in the parliament on September 16, Fico said it turned out the EU does not protect its borders well.  

“We spoke so much about Schengen, and now thousands of people spill over the borders and nobody is stopping them,” he said and suggested that unless the migrants are stopped, there is a danger that traditional pro-European parties will be replaced by nationalists and xenophobes.

Lajčák, who earlier said the visa-free Schengen zone was falling apart, now stressed once again that the refugee crisis threatens the Schengen area.

“At stake is not only Schengen and its future, but also the relations within the EU, the future of European policies, and maybe even the future face of Europe,” Lajčák said on September 16 in the parliament as quoted by TASR. He insisted that Slovakia promotes complex, long-term, and sustainable solutions, such as improved protection of the external border of Schengen and the hot-spots.

Lajčák also mentioned the European list of safe countries, support for safe zones in third countries, and more decisive action against smugglers, including the cooperation of intelligence services, among the solutions that Slovakia supports. He also opposed quotas.

“Strengthening the external border of the EU is necessary for maintaining a functioning Schengen,” Lajčák said as quoted by TASR. “For us it is one of the top priorities.”

Little opposition

Fico in the parliament thanked the opposition for supporting the government’s negative stance towards the quotas. Indeed, all the political parties represented in the parliament do oppose the idea of compulsory quotas.

The leader of opposition Most-Híd Béla Bugár however remarked in his speech in the parliament that there is a difference between the government and the opposition in their attitude, and accused the government of nourishing fears among citizens, which in turn only strengthens support for extremist ideas and parties.

“The project of the EU was built on solidarity, agreement, and free movement of people,” Bugár said as quoted by the Sme daily, adding that by losing its willingness to show solidarity and seek agreement, Slovakia might deprive itself also of the freedom of movement, “without which this project loses any sense”.

Security concerns

The influx of migrants means Europe is no longer safe, according to Fico, who repeated his earlier claim that 90 percent of the migrants are economic migrants rather than refugees.

Fico mentioned the security threat that he claims the migration wave brings along and noted that the intelligence that suggests it is mainly ISIS that organises the smuggling of people, thus earning large resources, cannot be ignored.

“This is not paranoia, but responsible cautiousness,” he said.

On the other hand, President Andrej Kiska, who, similarly to the prime minister, receives intelligence reports from the intelligence service, did not confirm any such threats to have been reported.

“The president does not have any information about security risks of Slovakia at the moment,” Kiska’s spokesman Roman Krpelan told the Denník N daily.

In their statement for the media the Slovak Information Service (SIS) confirmed that the “current practically uncontrolled influx of illegal migrants into the EU without knowing their identity is a high security risk”.

SIS calls for a more consistent observing of the Schengen rules. Otherwise, the situation with the uncontrolled movement of persons might become unmanageable, the SIS noted.

“The risk of infiltration of radical jihadist extremists to the territory of the EU has significantly increased in the recent months, due to the consistently non-functioning regime of the movement of persons within Schengen,” SIS stated.

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