European Union members split on 1,500-member border force that can act unilaterally
The EU unveiled plans Tuesday for a new border and coastguard force that can intervene even without the host country’s consent, saying it had to restore security threatened by the migration crisis.
The new agency will have a quick reaction force of 1,500 guards and a “right to intervene” in European Union nations that are either overwhelmed or are deemed to be failing to secure their frontiers.
With one million mainly Syrian refugees and migrants set to arrive in Europe this year, the record flow has raised fears for the future of the Schengen passport-free zone, while the Paris attacks have brought the security aspect under the spotlight.
But some member states in the 28-nation EU are hostile to the idea of a plan that could see them cede sovereignty over their own land and sea borders to bureaucrats in Brussels.
European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said the new force could take over management of national borders in “exceptional situations” where a member state was unable to cope.
“This is a safety net which, like all safety nets, we hope will never need to be used. But it is essential to restore the credibility of our border management system,” Timmermans said as he presented the plan to the European Parliament.
Brussels also set out plans to resettle some refugees directly from Turkey, the main launching point for most of the refugees coming to Europe.
– ‘Step in right direction’ –
Germany and other EU countries have in the last few weeks reintroduced temporary border controls to cope with the crisis, the biggest of its kind since World War II.
The fear is that if those controls become permanent, the 26-country Schengen zone that ensures the EU’s core principle of freedom of movement would collapse, taking the idea of a single, united Europe with it.
The new border guard system will replace the EU’s largely toothless Frontex agency, which has failed to tackle the flows of people on routes including Turkey to Greece and through the western Balkans, mainly because of a lack of manpower from member states.
EU leaders will discuss the new plan — which has been drawn up by the Commission, the EU’s powerful executive arm — at a summit on Thursday and Friday, European Council President Donald Tusk said.
“We must regain control over our external borders to stem migratory flows and to preserve Schengen,” Tusk said in his invitation letter to leaders.
The border guard plan won the approval of European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who said the EU had to be able to act when member states could not meet their responsibilities.
“That the EU creates common instruments to help and intervene, that is completely normal. The European Commission’s proposals… are a step in the right direction,” Schulz told AFP.
– Refugee rights –
But the plan faces being severely watered down by EU member states before the as yet unnamed agency comes into effect.
Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said Monday that the replacement of Warsaw-based Frontex “by a structure that is independent of member states is shocking”.
Rights group Amnesty International said the EU border guard plan “must not be at the expense of migrant and refugee rights”.
The new border guard system is just one part of the EU’s multi-pronged strategy aimed at stemming the unprecedented flow of refugees and migrants seeking a new life in Europe.
Many of the other measures are struggling to have an effect.
A controversial plan to relocate refugees around the EU to relieve the pressure on frontline states like Greece and Italy has so far shared out only a few hundred out of a planned total of 160,000.
The EU has meanwhile been accused of pandering to Turkey despite concerns over human rights, signing a three billion euro ($3.2 billion) aid deal and agreeing to relaunch the country’s moribund EU membership process.
In exchange Turkey, which is home to more than two million Syrian refugees, agreed to try to limit numbers travelling to Europe and tackle human smugglers who profit from their desperate journeys.