Monday

22nd Jan 2018

EU rejects Hungary's demand to finance border fence

  • Hungarian police caught some 4,500 people trying to cross its border with Serbia in the first four months of this year. (Photo: Stephen Ryan / IFRC)

The European Commission rejected Hungarian demands to co-finance its fences along the country's shared borders with Serbia and Croatia.

"We are not financing the construction of fences or barriers at the external borders," EU commission spokesperson, Alexander Winterstein, told reporters in Brussels on Friday (1 September).

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Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, in a letter addressed to EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, requested the money as a gesture of solidarity given the some €800 million Budapest has spent on the fences. Hungary now wants the EU to pay half.

But Winterstein also took issue with Orban's notion of solidarity, noting Hungary's refusal to take in asylum seekers from Greece and Italy.

"Solidarity is a two-way street, and all member states should be ready to contribute. This is not some sort of a la carte menu where you pick one dish," he said.

Orban, in his letter, said Hungary deserved the money for having protected not only itself "but all of Europe against the flood of illegal migrants", noting both Italy and Greece had received large sums from the EU commission to manage migration.

The EU has earmarked over €93 million in funding for Hungary, both from the EU's Asylum, Migration and Integration fund (AMIF) and the Internal Security fund (ISF). It also awarded Hungary an additional €6 million in emergency funds.

In 2015, Hungary had also refused to be labelled a front-line state in the migration route and rejected outright becoming a beneficiary country, like Greece and Italy, in the EU's relocation scheme. That plan had initially intended to remove asylum seekers from Hungary and relocate them to other EU states.

Instead, Hungary announced it would erect a 175km fence along the Serbian border, which it completed last year, and then added another one with Croatia. Budapest also started a second Serbian border fence and has since trained and put some 3,000 border-hunters into service.

Orban's government is now awaiting a verdict from the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, following a dispute over the EU's relocation scheme. That verdict is likely to disappoint the Hungarians after the court's advocate general over the summer pushed to drop the case altogether.

Other border fences stand between Austria and Slovenia, Slovenia and Croatia, Macedonia and Greece, Greece and Turkey, and Bulgaria and Turkey.

EU money for virtual fences only

But while the EU commission won't finance the construction of border fences, it will pour money into surveillance and other border management equipment along the barriers.

"We do support border management at the external borders - this can be surveillance measures, this can be border equipment," noted Winterstein.

According to a Statewatch report, out earlier this week, the EU budget from 2007 until 2010 helped fund some 545 surveillance systems covering over 8,200 km of the EU's external borders. This includes over 22,300 border surveillance equipment items.

At one point, the EU commission even granted €13 million in research funding to create autonomous unmanned land patrol robots, which were designed to track and chase down people crossing borders.

Another report from the London-based Overseas Development Institute, a think tank, estimates that the EU has spent some €17 billion since 2014 on deterring refugees and migrants from arriving.

Hungary demands EU payments for border wall

Hungary wants the EU to pay it some €400 million as a display of solidarity for having erected walls and fences along its border with Serbia and Croatia to keep out migrants.

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