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25/09/2016

Greece sceptical, but won’t veto Commission’s border force plan

Justice & Home Affairs

Greece sceptical, but won’t veto Commission’s border force plan

Bootsflüchtlinge in der Ägäis.

]Hellenic Coast Guard]

The Greek government disagrees with two crucial “points” of the European Commission’s plan for a new border force to be discussed at the two day summit starting on Thursday (17 December), but opposing a veto has been ruled out. EurActiv Greece reports.

The European Commission unveiled plans on Tuesday (15 December) for a new border and coastguard force that can intervene even without the host country’s consent, saying it had to restore security threatened by the migration crisis.

>>Read: Brussels unveils controversial plan for EU border force

The new agency will have a quick reaction force of 1,500 guards and a “right to intervene” in European Union states that are either overwhelmed, or are deemed to be failing to secure their frontiers.

The two “points”

The Syriza-led government is generally positive towards the European Commission’s proposal, but it has raised “two points”, a high-ranking government source told EurActiv Greece.

Press reports in Athens suggested today that the Greek government was examining a veto scenario, in the event its demands were rejected, but the source said that this was not the case.

“We have two points and not objections [as Greek media reported],” the source said, underlining that in principle, the Commission’s plan is heading in the right direction and helps Greece with “tough” management of its maritime borders.

The government source said that one point is the right of the new border and coastguard force to intervene without the host country’s consent.

>>Read: Juncker stakes leadership on Schengen survival

“The consent of the member states is needed,” the source noted, adding that Athens is not alone on the issue, as Spain, Hungary, Poland “and many other countries which do not make it public” also disagree.

At the same time, he stressed that in regards to third countries outside the EU, Athens’ request is the final text to make reference to “joint cooperation” rather than “joint ventures”.

“All these are consultations, but Athens has not considered the possibility of a veto,” he concluded.

Positions

Syriza MEP, Costas Chrysogonos, told EurActiv Greece that Athens had been asking since years for a similar border control body and therefore “welcomes the Commission’s proposal”.

“A balance is needed between the need to support the Schengen Treaty on the one hand and on the other hand, respect the sovereignty of EU Member States […] We need to revise the Dublin II Regulation in order to obtain balanced sharing among EU Member, based on the population and on economic figures and not put the entire burden of the problem on member states which happen to be the entrance points of the EU,” he added. 

"If external borders are permeable, internal borders will inevitably be set up. The security of external borders is vital to the existence of Schengen and indeed the EU," Vice-Chairman of the EPP Group, Esteban González Pons, said.

"The new proposals put forward by the European Commission are in line with our major aim: to make the control of our external borders a European matter", S&D Group President Gianni Pittella, noted, and he added:

"However, these new proposals must be followed by two further major points: the legal revision of the Dublin system and a new permanent and compulsory relocation scheme for refugees based on real solidarity and burden sharing between Member States."

Background

The proposed new agency will have close to 1,000 permanent staff, compared to about 400 at Frontex now, and double or more the Frontex budget. A new Returns Office would be charged with deporting those who fail to qualify for asylum.

In addition, the border guard force would be able to draw on a pool of around 1,500 personnel placed on standby while still working for national border forces in the Schengen area. These would form a rapid reaction force, able to deploy within days.

Timeline

  • 17-18 December: European Council which will discuss the role of the new border and coastguard force