Visegrad Four grouping push back on new EU migration plan

(Reuters) - Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia criticised on Thursday proposals for an overhaul of the European Union’s broken migration and asylum rules that are due to be discussed by EU leaders at a summit next week.

FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium July 19, 2020. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS

After a meeting in Brussels with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the plan was unacceptable to the Visegrad Four (V4) group, which also includes Slovakia.

“We have to stop migration and the quotas and relocation. These rules are not acceptable for us,” Babis told a news conference.

“The strategy should be that these people really should stay and live in their home countries, and we have to do the maximum for this and we have really to discuss it.”

The plan, masterminded by Germany, which took in a million refugees in 2015, at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, would legally oblige all member states to host their share of refugees, in exchange for funding from the EU budget.

It also aims to step up returns of illegal migrants -- including by cracking down on visas for citizens of countries that refuse to take their nationals back -- and support foreign states in stemming migration before people reach Europe.

The V4 countries, which unlike their wealthier western peers have little experience of absorbing large numbers of immigrants, have previously resisted a Commission plan to distribute asylum seekers across EU member states.

Orban also criticised the proposals, which include scrapping a rule that the first EU country of arrival is responsible for asylum requests, which puts too heavy a burden on Mediterranean nations. Instead refugees would be relocated through the bloc under the principle of “mandatory solidarity”.

“The breakthrough will come when the Hungarian proposal is accepted that says that nobody can enter the territory of the European Union until one of the member states closes their asylum procedure,” Orban told the same news conference.

EU heads of government will discuss the proposals by the EU’s executive Commission next week. A meeting scheduled for Thursday was postponed because European Council President Charles Michel, who normally chairs such gatherings, was quarantined under rules to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Reporting by Alicja Ptak in WARSAW, Anita Komuves in BUDAPEST, Robert Muller in PRAGUE, Jan Strupczewski in BRUSSELS; Writing by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Toby Chopra and Catherine Evans