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Greece threatened with exclusion from Schengen

Media outlets continue to provide a wide coverage of the migration crisis, mainly saying that this issue will be discussed during today’s EU Interior Ministers in Amsterdam. At this meeting, French Minister Bernard Cazeneuve intends to table several proposals to bolster security at the EU’s external borders. Le Figaro has seen the proposals, which include an overhaul of the Schengen code, leading to the systematic monitoring of all European citizens’ ingress and egress.

Among other things, Mr Cazeneuve wants a stronger Frontex to form a truly international corps of border guards with powers to repel illegal immigrants and to have real-time access to all cross-border files. Paris wants all EU member states to have access to harmonised files with information concerning the jihadist activities of all suspect individuals. “If we are not seen to be extremely vigilant about the security conditions at our external borders, then public opinion will be less and less favourable toward granting refugees a serene reception,” warned Mr Cazeneuve in a letter to European leaders.

Corriere della Sera provides further information on today’s meeting, noting that Italy and Germany will propose that any member state that intends to reintroduce border controls temporarily will have to reach an agreement with other EU member states first. The alternative is suspending the treaty on free circulation for two years.

In related news, the Daily Telegraph reports that EU leaders including Czech President Milos Zeman have said that the UK should send its troops to help patrol the EU borders in a bid to stem the flow of refugees into the bloc. It cites Mr Zeman as saying that every EU member state should send 500 troops to assist the planned European Border and Coast Guard in its patrols. The EU’s handling of refugees was among the issues discussed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, notes Politiken. It quotes EU High Representative EC Vice-President for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, stressing that “the EU is also a necessity if the refugee crisis is to be solved” and pointing out that the EU was initially criticised for not acting quickly enough on the crisis.

Along the same lines, Karen Bensch says, in a Deutschlandfunk programme, that Austria has introduced an upper limit for refugees. She warns that Europe needs to address certain aspects of the crisis, such as the protection of the EU’s external borders and that it needs to be addressed before the number of refugees increases in spring. Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajcak highlights, in an interview with Die Presse, that there will be national measures, such as Austria’s one, as long as no European solution is found.

Attention is also focused on Greece, as Austria proposed suspending the country from Schengen until the sea border with Turkey is secured, as reported, for instance, by Adevarul. Several newspapers, such as Le Figaro, point out that, the hypothesis of a “plan B”, aiming to temporarily exclude Greece of the Schengen area, is becoming increasingly important faced with the refugee influx and the increasing number of entry barriers, especially in the Balkans. Several European countries, such as Austria, blame Greece for having accepted late the EU’s police and humanitarian assistance. Right now, the aim is to put pressure on Greece, the daily adds.

Some are even considering a “radical solution”, i.e. building a fence in order to “stop the wave” as soon as it crosses the Greek border towards Macedonia and Bulgaria. Quoted in Le Figaro, German Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier condemns in advance an exit of Athens from Schengen, stressing the need to reach an agreement on “a fair distribution (of asylum seekers) in Europe.” The WSJE notes that the potential exit of Greece from Schengen will also be discussed in Amsterdam today. Naftemporiki reports that Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Kotzias lashed out against European officials who speak of Greece’s eviction from the free circulation area.

In De Morgen, Bruno Tersago writes that ideas, such as pushing Greece out of the Schengen Area, are now discussable and that it is especially a sign of the EU’s failure. He also considers that EC and EP Presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz have been keeping a very low profile lately. In an interview granted to Real News and with Mega TV and reported by Naftemporiki, Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos raised the alarm for the collapse of the Schengen agreement, denying however the rumours concerning an upcoming closure of the EU borders could lead to the entrapment of millions of refugees in the Greek territory.

Among today’s commentaries focused on Schengen, Manfred Lahnstein (SPD) argues in Handesblatt that, while the Schengen agreement is important, it is not the foundation or a “carrying pillar” of the EU. There has always been the option to suspend the agreement, if necessary. Mr Lahnstein criticises “untenable scenarios of doom,” such as EC President Jean-Claude Juncker’s claim that without Schengen, the euro does not make sense.

 

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