Saturday

20th Jan 2018

Opinion

Central EU border security is necessary evil

  • Migrants walking from Greece to Macedonia, en route to Germany (Photo: Martin Leveneur)

The stream of refugees pouring into Europe seems to have finally subsided, with 50 percent fewer refugees entering Greece in November than in October.

Some have given credit to Turkey, others to the onset of winter. But regardless of the causes, it is crucial that Europe’s leader use this time to step up and finally find a proper solution to secure the EU’s borders.

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So far, all efforts that have been made to bring the refugee crisis under control have failed.

Attempts to deal with the problem at the EU border have been hampered by Greece and Italy, who have failed to properly protect their borders. Left alone by the other member states, they have decided to let refugees pass through unregistered.

In 2015, only 429,000 out of the 760,000 refugees entering Greece where registered by local authorities, and only 121,000 fingerprinted.

The German-led plan to create an EU-wide solution, by forcing a relocation scheme on all member states also failed. Political capital has been wasted. Hungary and Slovakia have taken the EU to court. So far only 200 out of the planned 160,000 refugees have been resettled by EU member states.

New voluntary schemes are under discussion, with Germany's Angela Merkel leading a “coalition of the willing” to resolve the crisis, but this is unlikely to succeed.

There were more than 1.3 million illegal border crossings into the EU this year, and the numbers are likely to increase next year if no solution is found.

Europe is able to take in more refugees, but this can only work if the immigration process is properly controlled, immigrants registered, and asylum requests handled through a fast and streamlined approach.

The European Commission has proposed to upgrade Frontex to a powerful, and more independent, border guard. This is a step in the right direction.

The proposal is certainly not perfect, and it is understandable that countries such as Poland oppose it as an infringement on national sovereignty. They are wary of the fact that powers given to Brussels almost never come back.

Under the new proposal the EU’s border and coast guard could be deployed, even against the opposition of the concerned state - a provision hinting at the latest troubles with Greece.

In the Greek case it took massive pressure from other member states for Athens to be willing to let Frontex assist it in handling its borders, despite hundreds of thousands of refugees already having passed through unregistered.

Besides concerns about sovereignty, the opposition of many governments stems from a fear of Eurosceptic voters, who are strongly opposed to more power being transferred to Brussels.

This is particularly the case for the new PiS government in Poland, which was swept into power by a wave of nativist conservatism.

Nevertheless, Europe’s leaders must decide whether their opposition to a shared border force is worth more than the Schengen agreement, and all the benefits of an internally border free Europe.

Because if the influx of immigrants doesn’t stop, and hundreds of thousands of refugees continue to travel through Europe unregistered and uncontrolled, the final closing of national borders between EU members will be inevitable.

It is time that the EU lives up to its rhetoric. It is not necessary to close the borders entirely, as Hungary does, but we need to control them and monitor who is entering.

At the same time it is crucial that the hotspots for refugee registration are made more effective, so that asylum applications can be assessed efficiently and in a timely manner.

Should these improvements be made - a big “if”, but not an impossible one - then Europe will be better prepared for the number of refugees coming in increases again next spring.

This would not only be better for Europe, but also for those refugees who are in dire need and could receive better help in a more structured environment.

Leopold Traugott is director of Campus Europe, a Brussels-based NGO designed to help young writers

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