Monday, 20 November 2017

LN: Macron speeds up splitting of Visegrad Group

ČTK |
24 August 2017

Prague, Aug 23 (CTK) - The Visegrad Group (V4) is more and more turning into a V2 group, in which the Czechs and Slovaks are the more open partners, while the Hungarians and Poles are considered EU renegades, and French President Emmanuel Macron is speeding up the split, daily Lidove noviny (LN) wrote on Wednesday.

It says Macron labelled the V4 stances on migration treacherous and cynical still two months ago and it seemed he would adopt a dismissive position on East Europe as his predecessors, the paper writes.

However, Macron now decided that it is worth trying to talk with the Czechs and Slovaks, but not with the Poles and Hungarians, the paper writes, in connection with his planned meeting with Czech and Slovak prime ministers.

Along with Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, Macron is to meet Bohuslav Sobotka and Robert Fico this afternoon in Salzburg. He will spend the following two days in Romania and Bulgaria, while Hungary and Poland are going to be omitted.

Officially, the French Presidential Office presents reasonable explanations for this scenario: in Salzburg, Macron will take part in a meeting of the Slavkov Triangle (Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia), of which Hungary and Poland are not members; Romania has traditional cultural ties to France, while Bulgaria is to hold the presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of next year.

But LN cites a source from the French Presidential Office as telling the Reuters news agency that Macron is to visit the countries that are strongly attached to their European anchoring. This does not include Hungary and Poland, which Macron blamed for undermining the EU values.

Sobotka and Fico have the mandate to talk on behalf of the whole Visegrad Group in Salzburg, but Fico clearly said last week that his priority is that Slovakia remains in the EU core, with Germany and France, the paper writes.

It wrote that Sobotka was likely to make a similar statement in Salzburg on Wednesday.

Sobotka wants to offer Macron a political bargain: the Czechs will be ready to negotiate about the social dumping provided that France refuses to support a further extension of the obligatory quotas for accepting refugees, LN writes.

The first part of the bargain related to the duty to pay a "Western" salary to labourers posted abroad, even if for only a few hours. The rule "one country-one wage" has already been approved in Germany, France and also Austria.

LN writes that Sobotka wants to oppose the argument about the cheap East. A report worked out for the Czech government has shown that Czech workers posted abroad play a marginal role.

However, this report indirectly says the fear of the "Polish plumber" is still justified. In 2015, over 300,000 Poles worked abroad based on a Polish job contract, while the number of Czechs was 30 times lower, the paper writes.

French businesses actually profit from the lower salaries. "We want to show that the rules of the internal market are not one-sided because they have benefits for the old member countries as well," LN quotes Czech state secretary for European affairs, Ales Chmelar, as saying.

The Czech Republic would welcome it if Macron did not support the German pressure for the extension of quotas for the redistribution of refugees across Europe, the paper writes.

"If Macron does not mention the issue of migration (in Salzburg), it will be a success. In this way, he will show that he will not go on with the rhetoric about the (EU as a) supermarket, to which we (Czechs) come to get subsidies without paying anything," a diplomatic source told LN.

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