Central European Countries Pledge Stronger Action Against Illegal Migration

Central European Countries Pledge Stronger Action Against Illegal Migration

Interior ministers from six European Union member states met on November 27th in the southern Hungarian city of Szeged to discuss stepping up collaborative efforts against illegal migration at the EU’s external borders.

The high-level gathering, held just eight kilometers from Hungary’s border with Serbia, came in response to growing pressures along the so-called Balkan migration route and a recent surge in violence tied to human smuggling activity in the region.

Attendees included interior ministry officials from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — the four members of the Visegrád Group, or V4, bloc — along with Austria and Germany.

Collective Protection for External Borders

In remarks at the summit, Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan stressed that managing migration represented a “shared challenge” for Europe, and said solutions must focus on denying entry to migrants attempting to reach the EU illegally.

“We all are on the same migration route. We share borders, and the situation on the external border of the EU affects all of us,” he told reporters, while offering few specifics on how authorities would directly target the operations of smuggling networks.

Rakusan stated that recently restored internal border checks within the passport-free Schengen Area were “not the right solution” for containing pressures.

He said the six governments instead wanted to concentrate joint efforts on strengthening protection of the EU’s external frontiers.

“We all want to have the Schengen area alive,” the Czech minister emphasized. “We all know that controls and checks on the internal borders, it isn’t the right solution.”

Preserving Free Movement

So far this year, at least 13 EU member countries have reinstated ID checks and other border controls for travelers coming from neighboring nations that also belong to the Schengen Area. 

The moves amount to a rollback of one of the bloc’s cornerstone policies allowing people and goods to circulate freely across most internal European boundaries.

Just last October, Slovakia resumed select controls along its border with Hungary in an attempt to limit rising irregular migrant inflows after Austria. The Czech Republic and Poland imposed enhanced checks on their own borders with Slovakia for similar reasons.

The European Commission has stressed that while targeted internal border controls may be permitted for short periods to address security threats, their scope should remain limited and proportional.

Critics, however, counter that some countries are abusing the exceptional rules to introduce what amount to de facto permanent checks contrary to the spirit of the Schengen treaty. 

The controversy highlights the inherent difficulties in balancing states’ sovereign authority over their territories with cooperation at the EU level over the bloc’s shared internal border regime.

For now, the Central European countries party to this week’s migration talks appear committed to avoiding internal border restrictions between each other, instead seeking strength in numbers through exterior barriers like Hungary’s heavily fortified boundary fence along its border with Serbia.

Impact on EU Travelers and Immigrants

The pledges to step up external migration controls will likely have only a negligible impact on EU citizens and authorized immigrants traveling legally between Central European nations or elsewhere within continental Europe’s borderless Schengen zone.

However, the stricter stance could significantly affect non-EU migrants and asylum seekers attempting to reach Central European countries situated along the Balkan route, whether to settle there permanently or continue deeper into Europe. It may lead to more apprehensions and deportations of irregular migrants in border areas.

The introduction of the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) in 2025 will also give countries situated along the EU’s external boundaries additional tools to screen travelers from visa-free nations for irregular migration or security risks before they depart for Europe.

Once launched, the ETIAS will require citizens of some 60 countries around the world, including Western Balkan states, to obtain special pre-travel authorization when visiting any Schengen member state. 

Mandatory information submitted with applications will enable immigration officials to perform background checks and deny entry permission to unsuitable candidates before they can board planes or ferries bound for Europe.

The system aims to facilitate legitimate travel while bolstering frontline defenses against unauthorized migrants or cross-border security threats. 

ETIAS is forecast to issue roughly five million travel approvals per year.

Impact on EU Immigration Policies

The high-level migration talks did not result in any formal changes to national or EU-level immigration rules. 

However, the general hardening of political stances, especially in frontline Central European transit countries, could influence wider policy dialogues.

Hungarian Interior Minister Sándor Pintér said after the summit that he and counterparts would further debate common EU immigration and asylum protocols at an upcoming European Council meeting in Brussels.

Pintér flatly rejected any mandatory quota schemes to redistribute refugees and migrants across the bloc, reflecting Budapest’s longtime opposition to burden-sharing proposals from high-immigration countries like Germany.

“Hungary cannot accept the compulsory nature of relocation,” he told journalists. “This is a question of sovereignty for Hungary.”

While showing more openness to discussing joint external border protections, the meeting thus highlighted continued resistance by multiple governments over surrendering certain immigration policy decisions to supranational EU bodies, which will likely remain a difficult issue.

However, all member states agree on finalizing plans next year for the landmark ETIAS program, which promises improved collective security capabilities while upholding state control over who ultimately gets approved to enter their territories.

The Complex Balance of National Sovereignty and Collective Security

The gathering of Central European interior ministers in the border city of Szeged demonstrated both the challenges and opportunities inherent in balancing national interests with regional collaboration on the emotive issue of immigration.

While all countries aim to curb illegal migration and disrupt ruthlessly profitable human smuggling rings operating on their doorstep, questions of burden-sharing and sovereignty will continue hindering consensus on deeper integration of certain border control policies.

However, promising initiatives like the upcoming ETIAS show that harmonizing external protections in strategic areas can pay dividends for both individual states and the EU as a whole when it comes to strengthening shared security in an interconnected continent.