Czechia abstains from vote on EU migration pact: What's next?

Although the government supports the context of the migration pact, it has concerns over border security and the ease at which migrants may claim asylum. Staff ČTK

Written by StaffČTK Published on 09.05.2024 14:37:00 (updated on 09.05.2024) Reading time: 3 minutes

On May 8, Czechia abstained from a vote on the final form of the EU migration package in the European Parliament (EP), with Czech coalition ministers saying the package was a reasonably good first step, though was “weakened” from its first version. The EP supported the package at a plenary session in early April.

What is the EU migration pact?

Put simply, the Migration and Asylum Pact aims to improve how the EU manages third-country asylum seekers, particularly those from Middle Eastern and North African countries. 

The EU migration package's rules envisage, among other things, more effective controls on migrants and faster returns of unsuccessful asylum seekers to their countries of origin. The law aims to promote greater solidarity and cooperation among member states. 

The EU wants to see a more equitable distribution of asylum seekers across the bloc. Under the new legislation, if an EU country declines individuals seeking asylum, they will be legally obligated to provide alternative forms of assistance (such as via financial means).

What is Czechia’s official position?

Czechia is broadly in favor of the pact but disagrees with several of its elements. Its abstinence from voting at the Wednesday EP meeting (also abstaining from a vote in February) underlines its grievances and reservations with the deal. 

What have coalition politicians said?

Interior Minister Vít Rakušan said Wednesday that the final form of the package is “more bureaucratic” than its original proposal. However, he said the pact “was an important first step” towards an “effective solution to illegal immigration.” 

Rakušan noted that the newest version of the pact introduced mandatory detention and screening of migrants. However, the Czech Republic wants to protect European space further and is actively working on follow-up steps, he said.

“We are preparing concrete proposals on how to deal with asylum procedures in non-EU countries, measures against smugglers, and improving returns [of non-accepted asylum seekers]," he added.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala told the press this week that Czechia and other countries must “go beyond the EU migration pact’s framework and discourage illegal immigrants from coming to Europe.”

“The Czech Republic has co-founded a group of countries that want to tackle illegal migration in a really strong way,” Fiala said. He also wants a “more rigorous” asylum procedure before entering the EU.

How has the opposition responded?

Following Czechia’s Wednesday abstinence, leader of the opposition leader Andrej Babiš slammed the government for its move – “the fact that they have now abstained from it [the pact] makes no difference in the end,” he said. 

Babiš also accused Fiala of betraying Czechia and its citizens for its initial support of the package, which – according to Babiš – “invites” masses of immigrants into Europe.

Leader of the right-wing Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) party Tomio Okamura firmly stated: "Instead of voting against it, the government abstained like buck passers. The SPD movement does not want any African and Islamic migrants here, we will not respect the migration pact.”

Babiš used the discord over the EU migration package to appeal to the public to vote for his ANO party in the EP elections from June 6 to June 9. 

What happens now?

This was the last vote on the final form of the EU migration pact, with EU countries’ ministers to formally approve the new rules early next week. 

Hungary and Poland, who at the Wednesday EP meeting were the only countries to vote against the migration pact, have failed to persuade the other states to form a blocking minority together. Abstinences and minority votes against the pact are not enough prevent the package from going through; it just needs a majority.

The pact is slated to take effect in the second half of 2024.

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