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24th Jun 2018

Leaders impose June deadline for EU border force

  • Asylum seekers on Greek coast in October (Photo: CAFOD Photo Library)

A plan to create an European border and coast guard system was backed by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Thursday (17 December).

Despite outstanding issues over national sovereignty, leaders agreed to have the Council, representing member states, adopt its legislative position before the end of June next year.

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"Above all, we are failing to protect our external borders. That is why leaders have decided to speed up on all these issues," the EU Council chief Donald Tusk told reporters.

First announced by the European Commission earlier this week, the proposal is part of a larger border package designed to curb the inflow of people seeking asylum in the EU.

Some 1.2 million asylum seekers arrived in the EU since the start of the year, representing a 90 percent increase compared to 2014.

Most landed on the Greek islands in the Aegean after disembarking from Turkey. From there, they head to Macedonia and onward to mainland EU.

Bad weather has helped stem the flow of refugees since the start of November.

The new border agency would be able to draw from a pool of 1,500 guards. The European commission would be entitled to dispatch the guards without the consent of the nation state if required.

The measure, described by one EU official as "the invasion clause," is unlikely to garner broad support among the 28 capitals.

But leaders on Thursday wanted to send a strong political signal, noting that regaining control over external borders is indispensable in safeguarding the "integrity" of the EU's passport-free Schengen zone.

Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel said there is now an awareness that preserving Schengen and controlling migratory flows are interlinked.

Germany, in mid-September, had introduced internal border checks amid large numbers of asylum seekers transiting through Austria. Similar moves were made by the Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Sweden, and Slovakia.

Fears are mounting that more internal border controls would eventually lead to Schengen's collapse unless the external borders are better managed.

Turkey is seen as a key component.

In late November, the EU and Turkey agreed a €3 billion deal in an effort improve refugee camp conditions in Turkey and help with integration efforts of Syrians in Turkish society.

The hope among EU leaders is that Syrians and others in Turkey would have less incentive to apply for international protection in the EU.

Turkey, for its part, wants the EU states to pay up, hasten visa free liberalisation for Turks, resume EU membership talks, and start resettling UN designated refugees from Turkey to EU states.

But resettlement of refugees is a tricky issue in the EU.

A similar scheme had been launched by the European Commission over the summer to resettle some 20,000 over two years on a voluntary basis but they are few takers. Only around 600 have so far been resettled.

The commission then asked member states earlier this week to also to take in refugees from Turkey on the condition that the flow of people into Europe from Turkey is reduced.

Asked by reporters if the latest resettlement plan with Turkey is feasible, EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said "it will be done".

Tusk responded in kind: "It will be done for sure."

EU leaders also remain unclear if the bulk of the €3 billion will come from the EU budget or national coffers.

A meeting of EU ambassadors has been asked to "rapidly conclude its work on how to mobilise the €3 billion."

Greece, for its, part wants Turkey to apply bilateral readmission agreements for the return of non-refugees from places like Pakistan, Iran, and Morocco.

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