June 4, 2018 / 11:49 AM / 4 months ago

Czech leader opposes Merkel's idea of EU immigration 'flexibility'

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic opposed on Monday German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s idea of a flexible European Union approach to migration and an independent border police, saying protecting frontiers should be up to individual member states.

FILE PHOTO: Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis at a European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

Prague, along with other central European governments, has rejected a quota system drawn up by the European Commission to redistribute asylum seekers around the bloc.

With an EU summit due to tackle the dispute this month, Merkel called at the weekend for a flexible system in which countries that refuse to take in refugees could compensate by making contributions in other areas. She also said the European border police force Frontex should be allowed to operate independently.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis rebuffed this approach. “The idea that Frontex will guard everything by itself is not realistic in the long term,” he told reporters when asked about Merkel’s comments. “Individual states must guard that.”

Babis said later on Twitter he was not against common border controls but the EU should use the potential of member states first. “We support all EU initiatives to fight against illegal migration,” he said.

Migration has divided the EU’s 28 member states since more than one million migrants, many of them Muslims, arrived in 2015 largely from the Middle East and Africa. The Czech Republic - along with Hungary, Slovakia and Poland which together form the Visegrad Group - has taken a hard line on the issue and refused to accept more than tiny numbers of migrants.

EU leaders will again discuss migration at the end of this month. Merkel said over the weekend she was not sure that any deal to break the impasse over burden-sharing could be reached by then.

Unlike western EU states, the Visegrad countries have little experience of immigration historically and some have expressed fears for their Christian culture from any sizeable intake of migrants.

Babis questioned how countries could compensate for refusing to take in migrants and said on Twitter his country was “ready to continue with financial solidarity, but not as sanctions for not accepting quotas”.

He also said elections this weekend in Slovenia, won by an anti-immigration opposition party, and the formation of an anti-establishment government in Italy showed how the policy stance of the Visegrad Group had spread.

“This opinion on migration will prevail in the whole of Europe, and we have to stop migration outside the European continent and help the people in Africa and Syria,” he said.

Reporting by Robert Muller; Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Mark Heinrich and David Stamp

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