Feb 18, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

Three Things You Need to Know Before the EU Summit on Migration

Today, leaders of member states of the European Union gather for another summit of the European Council. This time, it’s to grapple with responses to the migration crisis as well as the British reform proposals for the European Union.

On the migration issue, leaders of the Visegrád countries — the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary — along with leaders from Macedonia and Bulgaria met up on Monday to offer a joint proposal ahead of the EU Summit. Here are the three points you need to know before today’s meeting:

The migration crisis is only going to intensify

“According to our calculations,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, following the V4 meeting, “today, there are 38.5 million people living outside Europe who are internally displaced in their own homelands and who could at any moment decide to set out for Europe.” In 2015 more than 1.5 million people crossed an EU border. Between January and October, a new immigrant arrived on average every 12 seconds.

Today, despite the efforts of the member states and the European Union, the influx of migrants is still a largely uncontrolled and unmanaged process. It has increased the crime rate, exposed EU countries to terror threats and maintains good business for the human trafficking mafia.

Hungary endured harsh criticism for building a fence on the Schengen border and outlawing illegal border crossing. But our assertive measures proved successful, so much so that other countries have followed suit. That’s not enough, however. Illegal migration must be stopped and controlled outside the EU’s border, and there’s no other way to do that than by effective border protection.

“Our standpoint continues to be that the mass migration flow must be brought under control and must be halted,” PM Orbán said following the V4 gathering.

This is not an either-or. The V4 countries propose an alternative response, one that complements existing policies because we must do more

The press has been repeating a narrative that the proposal of the Visegrád countries calls into question existing measures that the EU has in place. That characterization is off the mark. The V4 countries propose an alternative, a “second line of defense” for stepped up control of Greece’s border with Macedonia and Bulgaria. Common sense suggests that the phrase itself points to a first line of defense: the border control measures in Greece and Turkey that were put in place earlier.

Furthermore, in Monday’s declaration, the Visegrád countries underlined support for any EU measures that improve protection of the external borders, including cooperation with third party countries. The proposal for a second line of defense on the Bulgarian and Macedonian borders does not mean abandoning the EU’s cooperation with Turkey and helping in protecting the Greek border, despite the fact that we see little signs yet of effective cooperation between Greece and Turkey.

“The past months have shown that the EU has not succeeded. Therefore — logically, and in line with our political responsibility — we must discuss the possibility of a second line of defense,” said PM Orbán.

Where significant differences remain among new and old member states, they are largely about plans for the relocation of migrants, which many member states find unfeasible and illogical.

The stakes are high: the protection of Europe and the freedom of movement in the Schengen zone

If Europe cannot take control of the illegal migration problem, it may jeopardize one of Europe’s greatest achievements: the freedom of movement within the Schengen Area. This has become a common concern across Europe. National politicians and leaders of EU institutions have made this clear in their public statements.

And for good reason because we’re already seeing worrying signs, like internal border controls being restored and fences being built between Schengen countries on the Austria-Slovenia line.

European leaders must remain determined to protect Schengen. And the solution depends on Europe’s resolve to defend the border and address the problem beyond Europe’s frontier.