The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have announced that they plan to spend around €35m to beef up European Union borders as they come under pressure for refusing to accept refugee quotas.
The countries – known as the Visegrad Four – have been criticised for failing to show solidarity with Greece and Italy, where tens of thousands of migrants have landed after crossing the Mediterranean or Aegean Seas.
The issue of migrants and refugees was high on the agenda of a two-day EU summit in Brussels that started on Thursday – and some saw the border funding move by the four nations as a cynical ploy to avoid accepting refugee quotas.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said their contribution will help save European funds and that “if we will see good projects in the future, first of all projects that are effective, we are ready to spend even more money because we really want to show solidarity”.
Hungary saw tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and other migrants travelled north on foot out of Greece through its territory in 2015, looking for shelter in richer northern European nations.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban ordered the construction of a border fence to keep the migrants out.
Mr Orban said that the border funds will help defend the EU’s borders with the outside world and will also contribute to EU work in Libya, where many migrants leave for Europe.
After more than one million refugees entered Europe in 2015, the EU introduced a refugee sharing plan to help out overwhelmed Greece and Italy.
The four Visegrad nations voted against quotas, but were legally bound to accept refugees as the decision was made by a majority vote.
Still, Hungary and Poland have taken in no refugees under the plan, while the Czech Republic has accepted only 12.
Despite the tensions, the EU Commission wants to introduce a permanent mechanism that would oblige countries to take quotas of refugees if one or more EU nations are hit by a migrant wave.
The Visegrad nations remain firmly against migrant quotas.
“Quotas do not work, they are ineffective,” Mr Fico said. “The decision on quotas really divided the European Union.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte disagreed.
“We cannot have a system in which countries shop for those things they like from the European Union and are not willing to deliver the necessary solidarity,” he said.
“It cannot be that Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany face all problems and that other nations say: That is so nice that they deal with it there.”
Disagreement over the way to manage Europe’s migrant challenge has created distrust between EU neighbours and fuelled anti-migrant parties across Europe, slowly undermining the entire European project.
Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni said the pledge of more border funds from the Visegrad nations “confirms the validity of the policies we are developing”.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, whose department drew up the quota plan and have defended it in court, welcomed the funding move.
“This is proof that the Visegrad four countries are fully aligned when it comes to solidarity with Italy and with others, so for once I am a happy man,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said it is important not to get bogged down in old disputes and that solidarity can take different forms.
“We need to be able to express solidarity without getting trapped in any excessive road blocks” about the past, he said. “I think everyone needs to make an effort.”