V4 demonstrating unity on illegal migration and border protection

The V4 countries are determined to act together combatting illegal migration, where the most effective measure is the protection of the Schengen external border – V4 interior ministers told after their meeting on March 6 in Pezinok, Slovakia. The ministers agreed that V4 should represent a common voice on illegal migration in the course of the negotiations with the European Commission.

Top issues of the meeting were border protection, migration and the security of the region. The meeting was hosted by interim Interior Minister of Slovakia, Roman Mikulec (Slovakia currently holds the group’s rotating presidency), Hungarian Interior Minister, Sándor Pintér, Polish Interior Ministry State Secretary, Bartosz Grodecki and Czech Deputy Interior Minister, Radek Kaňa.

Cooperation against illegal migration and border protection were also on the agenda of the Prime Ministers’ meeting of the Visegrad Group on November 25, 2022, in Košice. At that meeting, Viktor Orbán announced to his Visegrad colleagues that Austria, Serbia and Hungary set up a new formation to help one another in defending the Schengen border by moving the line of defense to the border between North Macedonia and Serbia. The Prime Minister of Hungary asked his Visegrad colleagues to consider whether they can contribute to this border defense cooperation to which proposal he received a positive response from his Slovak, Czech and Polish counterparts.

A key topic of the meeting on Monday was the combatting of illegal migration coming from the Western Balkan countries. Roman Mikulec told at the post-meeting joint press conference that clear answers are needed from the European Commission to their proposals, and that the Brussels-based body must not ignore the challenges V4 countries face. Given that the most effective measure is the protection of the Schengen external border, it is crucial that other Member States of the EU also take part in this.

"Many migrants who come here illegally don't want to stay in the territory of the V4 countries but want to continue to Western countries, and we need to talk with these countries even more actively and openly so that they address the situation with us in a way that we can handle it," said Mikulec. Accordingly, the Slovak Interior Minister stressed that reimbursement of costs related to the protection of the EU's external borders should be negotiated with the European Commission. “The main thing is that this should take place after joint consultation, so that we can achieve the desired effect,” Roman Mikulec stressed.

Sándor Pintér, Interior Minister of Hungary added that the region, and especially Hungary, is under pressure from two directions: Hungary registered 270 thousand attempts to cross the Hungarian—and thus the Schengen—border illegally from the Western Balkan countries, while in the last year 4 million people entered Hungary from Ukraine and Romania, partially as the consequence of the war. Pintér also thanked the police assistance provided by the Czech Republic and Slovakia, noting that police officers currently working on the Hungarian border contribute not only to the protection of the Hungarian border, but also the Schengen external border, the borders of Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria and Poland.

Polish Interior Ministry State Secretary, Bartosz Grodecki, pointed out that a new development is the migration that started from the direction of Belarus. He told that security and border protection must be a priority for Visegrad countries, and the Visegrad Group shall communicate its position together before discussing such matters at the EU level.

Last year, a surging number of migrants on the Western Balkan route from Serbia across Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic to Western Europe resulted in the Czech Republic's decision to impose checks on the border with Slovakia. They were lifted this year. However, Czech Deputy Interior Minister, Radek Kaňa said on Monday that he cannot rule out that in the future, again, there will be border controls on the Czech-Slovakian borders.

Even though earlier several voices echoed the crisis of the V4 as the result of the differing voices within the group on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, this meeting again showed that the Visegrad Group is still very important for all four countries to jointly stand up for their common interests, and especially regarding joint actions against illegal migration and raising their voices for the enhanced protection of the Schengen borders. The V4 cannot and will not be a Central European political superpower with deep political cooperation in a wide circle of policy areas, but it can be and should be a strong regional cooperation based on the pursuit of mutual interests.

08.03.2023. Balázs Tárnok

Image: Új Szó/Somogyi Tibor