Greece Asks EU for Help to Control Bloc’s External Border

After warnings that it might be ejected from the Schengen Area, Greece finally asks for help.

Greek justice minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos listens to a conversation between European Commissioner Věra Jourová and his French counterpart, Christiane Taubira, in Brussels, December 3
Greek justice minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos listens to a conversation between European Commissioner Věra Jourová and his French counterpart, Christiane Taubira, in Brussels, December 3 (European Council)

Greece finally asked other European Union countries for help to control the bloc’s external border with Turkey on Thursday after officials had warned it could be ejected from the Schengen free-travel zone if it didn’t.

The Balkan nation said it would allow foreign staff to help guard both its Aegean Islands and the northern border with Macedonia.

It will also accepts tents and supplies to house stranded migrants.

Impatient allies

Some 700,000 have entered the EU through Greece this year alone.

The Financial Times reported earlier this week that other countries were vexed by Athens’ refusal to call in help from Frontex, the European border agency, and accept humanitarian aid.

One EU ambassador said this was a “red line” for Germany, the country that has received by far the highest number of immigrants. “The Germans are furious and that’s why people are talking about pushing Greece out.”

The prime ministers of Hungary and Slovakia had taken Greece to task for failing to secure the border.

The news agency Reuters reports that its allies have grown impatient with Greece’s failures to even register and identify most of those arriving, let alone accommodate them and handle asylum requests as EU rules dictate.

Bargaining chip

The Financial Times cited some analysts suggesting Greece was deliberately relaxing border controls to win concessions on the implementation of its third bailout. The far-left government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was elected earlier this year on a promise to cancel austerity, but had little choice but to agree to further pension cuts and liberalizations to stave off bankruptcy.

Aris Hatzis, an Athens university professor, said, “Tsipras saw the refugee issue as a bargaining chip, but it’s going to backfire disastrously if the threat of Schengen suspension becomes a public issue.”

In March, the Greek defense minister threatened to give all immigrants travel papers to go to Berlin unless Germany agreed to a more lenient bailout agreement. It didn’t.

The free-travel arrangement was a bargaining chip for other European countries as well. Greece doesn’t share a land border with the rest of the Schengen Area, so suspending it wouldn’t have affected migrant flows. But it would have been an irritant for Greeks traveling to other nations.

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