Greece gets EU border deadline

Greece gets EU border deadline

Greece is the main entry point to the European Union. Source: Flickr

The EU approached a two-year suspension of its free-travel Schengen zone to prevent the flow of migrants.

Greece, the main entry point to the EU for more than 850,000 refugees last year, has been overwhelmed by the influx and other EU states have been increasingly critical of Athens’s failure to manage the flow. Around 80,000 have already crossed from Turkey in 2016. EU states have temporarily reinstating emergency border controls but they expire in May and EU states have given Athens three months to attend to “serious deficiencies” on its external Schengen borders, including in registration, maritime surveillance, border checks and others.

“The overall functioning of the Schengen area is at serious risk,” the European Council said after adopting the 50 recommendations for Greece, which opposed the move.

Observers believe financially enfeebled Greece will fail to meet all the requirements which could lead the commission to recommend Schengen is abandoned for two years. Any such decision would still have to be approved by 28 EU members. Brussels claims the move was not designed to leave Greece isolated or stigmatised but to suspend Schengen in an orderly way and prevent it from imploding permanently.

An EU diplomat said: “The point is not locking Greece out of Schengen. The point is, if the external border is not being controlled, it allows member states to keep the controls that are in place on their own internal borders. If you don’t do this, Some EU states have re-imposed border controls on a temporary basis.”

Nato is sending ships in the Aegean to deter people-smugglers operating there. Most migrants want to travel through Greece to Germany, Sweden, Austria and other countries to the north. Article 26 of the Schengen Borders Code allows member states to install temporary border controls for a maximum of two years “in exceptional circumstances”.

The BBC’s Damian Grammaticas said: “The significance of this decision is that it prepares the ground for existing temporary border checks to be extended beyond May, when they are due to expire. Borders within Europe’s passport-free Schengen area are open, and most remain so. But a few nations, including Germany, Austria and Sweden have been allowed to put in place some controls at specific frontiers to deal with the refugee flows.

“If, in May, the situation has not changed the EU could then, legally, give the green light to Schengen nations to maintain their own controls for up to two years. The European Commission has made clear the move will not isolate Greece from the Schengen area or be about suspending Schengen, but will allow other countries to deal with the consequences of the problems Greece is having controlling its borders.”

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