Merkel seeks to smooth over divisions with Visegrad countries
CGTN

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to smooth over disputes on migration Thursday in her first high-level meeting with her counterparts from Central European Visegrad Group since 2016.

The four Visegrad Group countries – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – have repeatedly clashed with Brussels in recent years over migration policy.

Read more:

Can Merkel shake up the Visegrad Group?

However, speaking at a news conference after the meeting in the Slovakian capital Bratislava, Merkel instead stressed how the Visegrad countries “placed much importance on using our (EU) money efficiently and making sure we develop economically.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a press conference on the sidelines of a Visegrad group countries and Germany summit at Bratislava Castle in Bratislava, Slovakia, February 7, 2019. /VCG Photo

German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a press conference on the sidelines of a Visegrad group countries and Germany summit at Bratislava Castle in Bratislava, Slovakia, February 7, 2019. /VCG Photo

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has often made Merkel a target of his anti-immigration rhetoric, taking aim in particular at her open doors policy for refugees in 2015.

But after Thursday's meeting Merkel herself stressed the importance of defending the EU's common borders in order to preserve the visa-free Schengen zone.

"We need legal migration so that states decide who comes, not illegal migration," she said.

Merkel said that at the suggestion of the Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, the five leaders had decided to institute a “development project with Morocco” as part of efforts to address the root causes that drive migration, adding that more details would be forthcoming soon.

Merkel recalled that 2019 would be the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and that Germany would “never forget the inspiration, help and support” from her eastern neighbors in paving the way for German reunification.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban listens during a press conference on the sidelines of a Visegrad group countries and Germany summit at Bratislava Castle in Bratislava, Slovakia, February 7, 2019. /VCG Photo

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban listens during a press conference on the sidelines of a Visegrad group countries and Germany summit at Bratislava Castle in Bratislava, Slovakia, February 7, 2019. /VCG Photo

Speaking alongside Merkel, Orban made no secret of the fact that divisions persisted.

"It's undoubtedly true that we see the world differently, this is most evident on the migration issue,… but unlike many I think that's a good rather than bad thing," he said, emphasizing the importance of diverse opinions within the EU.

Nevertheless, he reiterated his wish for a change of direction for the EU after European Parliament elections due in May.

"If we ignore the will of the European people then we are building a European Empire, not a Union. That's what we rose up against 30 years ago," he said.

(Top image: (L-R) Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki give a press conference on the sidelines of a Visegrad group countries (V4) and Germany summit at Bratislava Castle in Bratislava, Slovakia, February 7, 2019. /VCG Photo)

Source(s): AFP