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Migration: Greece at the heart of the crisis

The migration crisis continued to receive a wide coverage by media over the last three days, mostly focusing on the situation in Greece. Greece has warned that up to 70,000 migrants and refugees could soon be stranded in the country as the government considers enlisting the help of the army to deal with the emergency. “In the next month between 50,000 to 70,000 will come and then I believe [the flows] will stop there”, the Greek migration minister, Yannis Mouzalas, told The Guardian; something also reported on, for instance.

Mr Mouzalas said it was likely the Greek armed forces – recently brought in to build “hotspot” screening centres – would increasingly be deployed to tackle the crisis. On the eve of the EU-Turkey summit on 7 March, Alexis Tsipras calls on his counterparts to take their share of responsibility, as Greece is refusing to foot the bill alone for the implosion of the Schengen area, notes Rosa Massaoui in L’Humanité. Although the gravity of the situation demands cohesion and solidarity from Europe, it is the opposite that is spreading, she points out. If Europe’s plan to “outsource” the refugee crisis to Turkey fails, then Greece will become the “Ellis Island” of Europe.

This is the dominant view among the European governments and the European Commission, notes Real News. Pessimism regarding the EU’s ability to manage the crisis and warnings about Europe’s potential collapse are expressed everywhere in the continent. Several newspapers, such as De Standaard, The Irish Times and The Guardian, feature statements by Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warning about the potential consequences of the current situation. In an interview with Kathimerini, he stresses that European leaders must do everything they can to control the refugee crisis. He warns that if all sides do not take up their share of responsibility, then the Commission will proceed with the implementation of contingency plans. He notes that it is pointless blaming each other, stressing that tangible results are required with the coordinated action of all sides.

Another Kathimerini piece further cites Commissioner Avramopoulos, who considers that the vision, architecture and European value system are being put to test. He accuses European governments of succumbing to populism, while he estimates that the refugee pressure on Europe will increase. “Europe turns its back on Greece over refugees”, reads an FT headline while, along the same lines, Het Laatste Nieuws‘ Luc Van der Kelen highlights that the EU is losing all control over its own territory. European commitments are no longer important and regulations do not exist anymore, he stresses.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, speaking to newspaper Österreich, believes that the EU will make a historic mistake if it does not find a joint strategy in the refugee crisis. Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil has levelled harsh criticism against EU border protection agency Frontex in an interview in the “Krone”. According to him, the repatriation of refugees who are not entitled to asylum does barely work and the task of securing the external borders of the EU is not accomplished. The European Commission falls through in all respects here, he points out.

In an interview with Handesblatt, Italy’s Foreign Affairs Minister Paolo Gentiloni warns that “Europe is at the brink of the abyss.” While he understands some countries’ difficulties in the refugee crisis, “the answer has to be European, not unilateral.” Mr Gentiloni regards the situation in Greece as “striking proof that the current rules of the Dublin Agreement need to be changed.” March’s meeting between the EU and Turkey seems to be the last straw to prevent the dream of free movement in Europe from crashing totally, says HBL, while, in a positive tone, Christiane Schlötzer considers, in Süddeutsche Zeitung, that it is a possible “sign of hope.” “We must avoid battles between plans A, B and C. This is foolish and creates divisions within Europe,” lamented European Council President Donald Tusk, quoted in La Croix.

Among others, Het Financieele Dagblad reports that Mr Tusk will start on Tuesday a three-day trip to Vienna, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Skopje and Athens. He will try to strengthen the consensus about the refugee crisis. It will be a difficult task as political relations in the area have deteriorated and Greece even recalled its ambassador from Vienna, adds the Dutch daily. There are also reports that on Saturday the European Commission denounced Budapest’s decision to hold a referendum on the refugee relocation plan. “We don’t understand how this referendum fits into the decision-making process accepted by all EU member states, including Hungary, under the Treaty framework,” said an EC Spokesperson, quoted in L’Humanité.

Speaking on German TV ARD, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she does not intend to change course on refugees, despite internal criticism and Germany’s growing isolation, reports La Stampa. Ms Merkel’s strategy is still to tackle the causes of immigration, to counter illegal immigration, to take common action in Europe to reinforce EU borders, and cooperation with Turkey.



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