Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met his counterparts from the Visegrad Group and Luxembourg in Prague on Friday (11 September) to discuss the European refugee crisis. The Foreign Ministers of the Visegrad states ‑ the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland ‑ meet regularly to liaise on European and other international issues.
Momentous numbers of refugees
After the talks with his five fellow Foreign Ministers, Steinmeier said at a joint press conference that he expected another “40,000 refugees from our neighbours to the south and south-east” to travel to Germany. He described these numbers as “momentous”. Notwithstanding the willingness of people in Germany to help, he went on, “our capacities are running out too”.
European solidarity essential
Steinmeier emphasised that no country could cope alone with the challenges currently posed by the refugee situation. “We need European solidarity,” he said, adding that this was “probably the greatest challenge” that the European Union had ever faced. Part of what was needed, Steinmeier went on, was a fair distribution system for those refugees still on their way to Europe.
While the host, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, insisted that each individual country had to retain the right to decide how many refugees to take in, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn warned against splitting Europe over the refugee issue. Referring to Germany and Sweden, Asselborn said, “It is not acceptable for two countries to have to bear the whole burden.” He continued, “If these people knock on our door, we have to open up.”
Elements of a European approach
Steinmeier pointed out that playing the blame game, pointing the finger at other EU member states, was not a solution. “On the contrary,” he said, “We will only be able to deal with this challenge by agreeing on joint European solutions.” Some initial “joint elements” which could serve as part of such a European solution were already in place, Steinmeier went on.
He reported as an example that the attending Foreign Ministers had agreed on the need for “much more efficient return policy at the joint European level”. As he explained, however, this would require the European Union to conclude readmission agreements with the refugees’ countries of origin and countries they travelled through. There was also consensus on the matter of “better” management of Europe’s external borders and on the need for a “common understanding” of “safe country of origin” designations in Europe. The same agreement reigned, Steinmeier reported, on the question of combating the factors causing people to flee their homes. According to him, this would mean being willing to spend “European money” to help “create more educational opportunities and jobs”.