Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Greece gets two-week deadline for border plan
Idomeni camp saw violence erupt over the weekend (Photo: Fotomovimiento)
By ESZTER ZALAN
BRUSSELS, TODAY, 19:30
The European Commission on Tuesday (12 April) gave Greece a two-week deadline to come up with concrete plans on how to better protect the EU’s external border.
If not, the EU’s executive is set to extend existing border checks within the passport-free Schengen zone.
In early March the EU set out 50 recommendations for Greece to remedy deficiencies in the management of the external border of the Schengen area.
Tuesday's report is the first assessement of measures taken by Greece.
The commission says it is concerned with Greece's inability to run migrants' fingerprints through EU-wide data systems and urges Greece to start joint patrols with the EU’s border agency, Frontex, on the Macedonian border.
It highlights the lacks of an effective coastal surveillance system. It also points out at the lack of a timeline for measures to be implemented and of clarity over which authority is responsible.
“The commission requests that Greece provide the additional elements and clarifications by 26 April and offers its continuous support to Greece,” the EU executive’s statement said.
If, however, deficiencies persist, the commission will present a proposal to allow member states to extend border controls beyond an initial six-month period.
Under current rules, passport checks should cease first at Germany and Austria's borders on 12 May - six months after they were introduced.
“The commission remains prepared to pursue this course if necessary, as a means of safeguarding the functioning of the Schengen area as a whole,” the statement said.
Over the last months, several EU countries have pointed fingers at Athens for failing to defend the bloc’s external boundaries, and adequately process the tens of thousands flowing into the EU.
Since last September, eight Schengen countries, including Germany and Austria, favourite destinations for migrants making their way into the EU, have introduced border checks.
That induced fears about the survival of the Schengen area, one of the core achievements of the EU.
In February, Austria introduced a cap on how many asylum seekers it would allow in, prompting other countries along the so-called Western Balkan migration route from Greece, to close their borders to migrants.
It led to 53,000 people being stranded in Greece, over 11,000 of them at Idomeni, a village near a crossing point with Macedonia, according to the latest figures from the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.
Violence has erupted several times at Idomeni, including last weekend.
Meanwhile, Austria said it would extend checks to its border with Italy, as authorities fear that the Balkan route of migrants to shift from Greece to Italy and then to Austria.
Austrian police said concrete was poured on Tuesday as building started for a control centre at the Brenner pass in the Alps, on one of the Europe's main North-South route.
The European Commission is “very concerned” about the plans, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
The pressure remains high on Greece even thogh since the borders are closed and an EU-Turkey deal came into force to return illegal migrants, the number of new arrivals have dropped.
According to figures from the UNHCR, last week fewer than 100 people arrived to the Greek shores on, marking the lowest recorded weekly arrival average rate to date.