24th Mar 2018

EU imposes border demands on Greece

  • Macedonia crossing: Athens denies its has neglected border duties (Photo: Martin Leveneur)

EU states have piled the pressure on Greece to sort out its frontiers or risk extending internal controls throughout the passport-free Schengen zone for up to two years.

Ministers on Friday (12 February) issued Athens some 50 demands following EU Commission criticism that Greece had "seriously neglected its obligations" on border management when it came to migrant inflows.

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The ministerial demands are part of the larger so-called Schengen Evaluation Report that now will be sent to the European Parliament.

Greece will have three months to sort out the issues.

The timing coincides with the expiration of German border checks in May that, should Greece fail to implement the recommendations, could allow Berlin to then extend its temporary controls beyond current maximum limits set under EU law.

Extending the checks for two years would require the European Commission to trigger the procedure in Article 26 of the Schengen borders code.

The article allows states to reintroduce controls at all or specific parts of their borders.

It means passport-free travel in the Schengen border zone would be more severely restricted, possibly jeopardising the EU's cherished right to freedom of movement.

Around half a dozen states have imposed border checks in an effort to stem and better manage large migratory flows.

Germany first imposed a ten-day control at its Austrian border at the start of September after having announced an open door policy for Syrian nationals.

Germany's interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, then appeared to pre-empt the Schengen report when he announced indefinite border checks on German radio MDR Info last month.

Three day probe

The Schengen report is based entirely on an unannounced three-day on-site visit in early November to the Chios and Samos islands as well as to several land border crossings with Turkey.

Greece, in a statement, said the November visits had failed to prove anything and that the agents sent by the EU border agency Frontex had shown "no evidence" that it had neglected its duties.

Some 880,000 people landed in Greece from Turkey last year. Despite the winter weather, Greece is averaging 2,000 daily landings.

The International Organization for Migration said on Friday around 77,303 people had crossed from Turkey to Greece since the start of the year.

Ministers wants Greece to prioritise registration gaps, sea border surveillance, risk analysis, and international cooperation.

Among the more specific demands, it wants Greece to improve security features on 'temporary stay' documents, reinforce the Hellenic police force, carry out systematic checks of irregular migrants' travel documents, and improve registration and fingerprinting of arrivals.

They also demand that Greece set up a coastal surveillance system that covers "the whole sea border between Greece and Turkey".

This includes offshore patrol boats, vessels, helicopters, planes "and other means".

Greece voted against the Schengen report in an economic and financial affairs council. Both Bulgaria and Cyprus abstained. Everyone else backed the report.

This article was updated on Monday (15 February) at 13.22. It incorrectly stated that the recommendations in the Schengen Evaluation Report would be submitted to the European Parliament for adoption. In fact, the recommendations will only be forwarded to the parliament.

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