terça-feira, 26 de janeiro de 2016
Athens hits back at EU plan to ringfence Greece
January 25, 2016 8:32 am
Athens hits back at EU plan to ringfence Greece
Andrew Byrne in Idomeni
Greece has hit back at European proposals for tightened security on its northern border with Macedonia, describing the latest plans to staunch the flow of refugees into Europe as a dangerous experiment that would “traumatise” the country.
The proposals to dispatch joint police forces along Macedonia’s border with Greece — first outlined in a letter sent by Miro Cerar, prime minister of Slovenia, to fellow EU leaders last week — have gained political momentum ahead of a meeting of EU interior ministers in Amsterdam on Monday.
The plan seeks to shift the frontline of Europe’s refugee control efforts to the northern part of Greece, where the government is already straining to manage the influx with limited resources.
A Slovenian government statement on Friday claimed the proposal would allow an end to internal Schengen border controls and said it had received strong backing from central European countries, including Hungary and Poland, while “positive signals” had been received from Brussels. EU officials were in Macedonia on Friday to assess conditions on the ground ahead of Monday’s talks.
But Ioannis Mouzalas, Greece’s minister for migration, said ringfencing Greece from the Schengen zone would not stop asylum seekers making their way to northern Europe, adding that Athens had not been consulted on the plan in advance.
Instead, Mr Mouzalas called for greater assistance for Turkey to help it reduce the numbers crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece. More than 2,000 asylum seekers arrive from Turkey each day before making the journey overland to the EU through the western Balkans.
“It’s not easy to trap [asylum seekers] and we do not intend to become a cemetery of souls here. We cannot understand what kind of policy it is that a country would close its borders with Greece,” he said on Sunday evening. “We do not have time to experiment with things that will only worsen the trauma.”
Mr Mouzalas was speaking hours before the plan was due to be discussed at the Amsterdam meeting. He said EU officials had not sought Greece’s views on the proposal until Sunday, when he met with Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU’s migration Commissioner, in Athens.
The EU is struggling to respond to a surge of desperate migrants that has resulted in thousands of deaths
The plans have caused alarm in Greece, where the government has previously warned against turning the country into a “black box” for refugees. The proposal is especially contentious because Macedonia is not an EU member state and has troubled relations with its southern neighbour — Athens has blocked the country’s Nato accession in a dispute over its official name.
“EU institutions making plans with countries like Fyrom [Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia], that are not member states, and then leaving actual member states out of this dialogue — this is not the way to reach a solution,” said Mr Mouzalas.
The border clampdown is the latest in a series of initiatives which ministers are examining as pressure mounts to reduce the number of new arrivals. Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, last week said the EU had “six to eight weeks” to find an effective solution, or else the passport-free Schengen zone would collapse.
Mr Cerar on Friday said he hoped a “concrete, realistic proposal” would be agreed within days, adding “it is high time we took more effective action in relation to the so-called Balkan and central European migration route”.
Earlier plans, such as a €3bn EU aid programme for Turkey in return for its commitment to reduce refugee arrivals, have so far failed to stem the flow of asylum seekers arriving at Europe’s shores. More than 43,000 migrants arrived in Greece by sea in January alone.
Although no formal decisions will be made on Monday, the ministerial talks will be an opportunity for a candid and open discussion on the new security proposals.
In its briefing paper to ministers, the Netherlands, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, suggested that without fast-action on proposals such as the common border force, it may be impossible to avoid invoking “Article 26” of the Schengen code.
This would pave the way to temporarily closing one or more internal borders within Schengen for up to two years, in effect making the ad hoc border restrictions announced since September a longer-term fixture that would fracture the passport-free zone.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the commissioner responsible for migration, said at the weekend: “If Schengen collapses then the entire European structure will start collapsing”.
Additional reporting Duncan Robinson in Amsterdam and Alex Barker in Brussels