Normative aspect: D-
Final mark: D+
In external relations, the government gave its full backing to the new European doctrine, whereby all instruments are subordinate to efforts at curbing migration, despite the fact this could jeopardise the long-term objectives of development cooperation. The Czech Republic and other Visegrad countries were destructive in their approach to proposals for the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The Czech concept of an à la carte Europe was one of the main factors behind the schism with countries in the south and west of Europe. Although the government expressed solidarity with certain countries on migration routes by dispatching police units or sending financial contributions, it made no attempt to fulfil its commitment to relocate a large number of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy. The political credit the Czech Republic used up in its resistance to quotas will now be missed in other priority areas.
In 2016, the EU’s main topics in relation to refugee issues and migration consisted of efforts to reduce the numbers of migrants arriving in Europe without a valid visa (irregular migration) on one hand, and efforts to reach a consensus on reform of the Common European Asylum System on the other. The adoption of a migration agreement between the EU and Turkey in 2016 resulted in the closure of the Balkan migration route. This arrangement slashed the influx of irregular migrants, but simultaneously made the Mediterranean route all the more important. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, migration to the EU and refugee issues will remain key political topics in the coming year.
The Czech Republic was relatively constructive in its contribution to activities aimed at curbing irregular migration. The government backed efforts to reinforce EU external border protection, for example by dispatching police officers to help with border protection in Hungary, Serbia, and Macedonia. These countries praised the Czech Republic’s activities on more than one occasion. The government also welcomed the subordination of development instruments to efforts to curb irregular migration and increase the number of unsuccessful asylum seekers being returned. It contributed funds to their development even though this change could undermine the Czech Republic’s long-standing efforts in the field of development cooperation, which mainly target the eradication of poverty, not restricting migration. Nevertheless, this is a pan-European trend and the Czech Republic is therefore no exception.
In February 2016, during the Czech presidency of the Visegrad Group (V4), Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka presented a proposal for a “backup border system” anticipating Greece’s forced expulsion from the Schengen area and the free movement of persons. This needlessly called the EU’s uniform position into question and was an unfair act displaying a lack of solidarity with geographically exposed Greece. However, further debate on this matter was forestalled by the adoption of the agreement between the EU and Turkey on the return of migrants.
The Czech Republic and the other V4 members also blocked efforts at CEAS reform intended to increase harmonisation and mutual solidarity between Member States, including the introduction of a permanent mechanism for the relocation of asylum seekers within the EU. Nor did the Czech Republic make any move to comply with its commitment to resettle more than 2,500 people who had sought asylum in Italy and Greece. There was no political will to take in at least some of these migrants. In September, the Slovak EU presidency, with Czech backing, came up with an alternative proposal of “flexible solidarity” (subsequently renamed “effective”). The proposal was very general and incorporated no specific commitments, and consequently merely exposed the spuriousness of the Czech position. President Miloš Zeman further demaged Czech reputation in October, when he said that economic migrants should be deported to African deserts.