Central bloc demands rights for EU migrants settled in UK
Visegrád Group call for ban on benefits to apply to those who arrive after the law comes into effect.
By TARA PALMERI 2/16/16, 12:05 AM CET Updated 2/16/16, 12:20 AM CET
EU citizens already settled in the United Kingdom must be spared from David Cameron’s planned restrictions on benefits, Central European leaders said Monday evening.
At a summit in Prague, the Visegrád Group — Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia — coordinated their response to the British prime minister’s demands for EU reforms which will be debated at a February 18-19 European Council.
Their main concern was ensuring that a ban on in-work benefits for EU migrants would only apply to those who arrive after the law comes into effect.
They also want such a provision to apply to child benefits being sent abroad, which the British want to be index linked to the economic situation in the country where the child lives.
“With in-work benefits the text is clear,” Tomáš Prouza, the Czech Republic’s state secretary for EU affairs and a key ally of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, told POLITICO.
“We need the same clarity for the child benefits indexation — same rules, only to the newcomers.”
“It’s only fair if you change the rules then it’s for those who decide to come after.”
“Our fundamental goal is the defense of rights obtained by people already on the islands,” Konrad Szymański, Poland’s Europe minister, told Polish radio Monday evening.
He said which benefits would be suspended had still to be determined, as “not all can and should be [suspended].”
Beata Szydło, Poland’s prime minister, said after the summit that the migration plan creates “difficult to accept” issues for the countries of the region.
Early on Monday, during a press conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Cioloş called for the so-called safety mechanism on migration to be limited to exceptional situations that last for only a short period of time.
He echoed the Visegrád position on the indexation of child benefits, saying, “We want this mechanism to only apply to those who will go to work in the U.K. from now on.”
Primer minister of Poland, Beata Szydło; PM of Hungary, Viktor Orbán; PM of the Czech Republic, Bohuslav Sobotka; and PM of Slovakia, Robert Fico, prior to the V4 summit
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło (left) and her Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán
To ensure that the contentious reform can only be implemented by the U.K. and not by other countries, a line was added last week to the reform text that the safety mechanism would only be available to countries that opened their labor market to EU migrants immediately after the accession of the Central European countries in 2004. The only countries to do this were the U.K., Sweden and Ireland.
The Visegrád countries want the same rules to apply to child benefits.
“The whole discussion which we always thought would be U.K. specific is now being hijacked by some other countries that are talking about re-modeling the whole social system,” Prouza said.
“The Germans, Austrians and Benelux, they’re starting to say we should apply the indexation of child benefits. The Luxembourgers and the Belgians have talked about indexing unemployment benefits.”
A sherpa from a Western EU country confirmed this concern, saying: “There’s a tension between Eastern european states and the Western countries, who are saying, ‘What about me? What if I want to use this mechanism?'”
He also said that they want to ensure the text is updated to clarify that the safety mechanism only applies to “non-contributory benefits.”
“The ban would not apply to sickness benefits because you pay into the system,” Prouza said.
“We think if any benefits are based on you paying into the system first, you should get back the same amount that you pay in.”
Sobotka will meet with Tusk in Prague on Tuesday morning where they will discuss their demands, with the hopes that they will be included in the text by the eve of the summit.
Cameron is hoping to secure a deal this week so that a referendum can be held in June.
Jan Cienski contributed to this article.
terça-feira, 16 de fevereiro de 2016
Central Europe wants to halt migration if EU plan fails / Central bloc demands rights for EU migrants settled in UK
Central Europe wants to halt migration if EU plan fails
Visegrád countries don’t want migrants, but they also don’t want to offend Germany.
By JAN CIENSKI 2/15/16, 9:34 PM CET Updated 2/16/16, 7:26 AM CET
Central European countries want a “back-up plan” to block the flow of migrants from Greece in case other steps to fortify the EU’s borders fail, but during a summit in Prague on Monday they didn’t break with a broader EU approach to the issue.
The prime ministers of the Visegrád Group — Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia — met with leaders from Macedonia and Bulgaria, a sign of the region’s increasing concern that the EU has lost control of the frontiers of the passport-free Schengen zone.
Their summit statement expressed “full support for measures adopted at the European Union level with the aim of a more effective protection of the external borders.”
But the leaders also called for “an alternative back-up plan” if efforts to keep migrants from leaving Turkey fall short.
Central European countries have generally balked at the EU’s refugee relocation scheme, denouncing any attempt at imposing resettlement quotas.
Hungary is ready to support the creation of “a second line of defense,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said at the conclusion of Monday’s summit.
Hungary calls the shots
Orbán has been the driving force in crafting a tough regional response to the migration crisis. Hungary last year saw hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers passing through on their way to wealthier EU countries like Austria and especially Germany. Orbán stemmed that flow by building fences along Hungary’s borders, and migrants are now moving through Slovenia.
Earlier Monday, Orbán spoke in Hungary’s parliament, denouncing Europe’s “weak” response to the crisis and insisting that building a border fence had worked “to protect the country and fend off terrorist attacks.”
The Czechs have the best relations with Germany of all four Visegrád countries, and worked to make sure the summit declaration didn’t alienate Berlin.
Central European countries have generally balked at the EU’s refugee relocation scheme, denouncing any attempt at imposing resettlement quotas. Opinion polls show very little support for accepting migrants across the region.
However, the Visegrád countries also want to ensure that Schengen does not collapse, as the free movement of people and goods has been an enormous boost to their economies.
Germany is taking the lead in trying to save the zone and keep Greece from being suspended by trying to get Turkey to slow the flood of people crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece. It also wants Athens to set up processing centers to identify and fingerprint migrants instead of simply allowing them to continue on to northern Europe. EU countries have given Greece three months to fix its borders.
But if that doesn’t work, then the Visegrád countries want a way to halt the flow.
“If Turkey fails to manage the regulation of migration, the illegal economic migration may be stopped on the borders of Macedonia and Bulgaria,” Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech prime minister, told the CTK news agency.
Berlin isn’t enthusiastic about that idea.
Mending fences, building fences
“The atmosphere in Europe is becoming poisonous,” Arndt Freytag, the German ambassador to the Czech Republic, wrote in the Pravo newspaper. He worried about “xenophobia” and that “eastern and western Europeans are diverging” over the issue.
The Czechs have the best relations with Germany of all four Visegrád countries, and worked to make sure the summit declaration didn’t alienate Berlin, said Milan Nič, head of the Central European Policy Institute, a Bratislava-based think tank.
“The Czechs are trying hard to mend fences with Germany,” he said.
But fences are broadly what the region wants.
The Bulgarian prime minister, warned that strengthening Greece’s borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria would simply shift migrant flows elsewhere.
In addition to Orbán, who has seen his popularity surge thanks to his opposition to migrants, Slovakia’s Robert Fico is also using the issue to boost his chances ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections.
The politics aren’t as clear-cut for Beata Szydło, Poland’s prime minister. Warsaw’s relations with Berlin have turned frosty in recent weeks, as Poland’s new nationalist Law and Justice party government has resurrected historic Polish fears of being dominated by Germany.
Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the Law and Justice party, has warned of parasite-carrying migrants, and there is little public enthusiasm in Poland for accepting large numbers of foreigners, but Szydło’s government hasn’t made as much political hay of the issue as Orbán and Fico.
Macedonia and Bulgaria’s presence at the Prague summit is part of the region’s effort to send a signal to the rest of the EU that it wants to block Greece’s northern border if Athens proves unable to act. Macedonia, which isn’t an EU member, in recent days has received offers of help to expand its border fence with Greece.
Bulgaria has been a little more careful. Boyko Borisov, the Bulgarian prime minister, warned that strengthening Greece’s borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria would simply shift migrant flows elsewhere.
On Sunday he spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Bulgaria confirms its solidarity with Greece and its disagreement with the idea to close the border between Macedonia and Greece,” said a Bulgarian government media statement on the phone conversation.