Greece
Greece

Gathered for its plenary session in Strasbourg, the European Parliament held on Tuesday afternoon, for the umpteenth time, a stormy debate on the refugee crisis and border controls, while pressure mounts on Greece, currently under threat of being expelled from the Schengen Zone.

Greece
Greece

Profound divisions over the refugee question have resonated in the Strasbourg hemicycle for months amid prolonged procrastination, even as the flow of migrants landing on Greek coasts from neighboring Turkey has shown no signs of stopping.

Tuesday, however, the debate cranked up a notch in the presence of the Vice-President of the European Commission Franz Timmermans. Numerous voices were heard openly seeking to cast blame, spurning responsibility in favor of calling for a full closure of certain European borders.

Even if, within the ranks of the left and the greens, some parliamentarians spoke out against “populism, stigmatization and the criminalization of migrants” and were alarmed that “Europe loses its soul,” their arguments were drowned out by blaring declarations from the extreme right denouncing the “invasion and islamization” of the European Union (EU).

The idea of the closure of certain borders appears to have made its way to the European Parliament in the wake of the unprecedented procedure launched by the European Commission on Jan. 27 against Greece. Standing on the front line of the refugee crisis and bearing much of the burden for the EU, Athens finds itself criticized by Brussels for “grave shortcomings” in terms of its management of the flood of migrants.

According to a report, based on a November visit made by Frontex – the European border agency – to the islands of Chios and Samos, and from which the findings have not been made public, Greece has “seriously neglected its obligations” in the management of its external Schengen borders, putting the functioning of the free circulation area in peril.

Certain central European nations, such as Hungary and Slovenia, are working openly for a Schengen “Grexit.” For Greece, which does not have land borders with the rest of the Schengen Zone, this would put controls in place for flights and shipping, causing a blow to the tourism industry, one of the country’s few economic motors.

Having been submitted to drastic austerity measures over the last five months, Greece lacks police officers, coast guard units, and the infrastructure needed to deal with the flood of incoming refugees. For the moment, only one EU-planned hot-spot – a center for registering and sorting migrants – has been installed on the island of Lesbos.

In regards to the agreement between Turkey and the EU, which is meant to provide 3 billion euros in aid and the relaunch of EU adhesion talks in exchange for a better management of migrants by Ankara, many have denounced it as a “fool’s bargain.”

Meanwhile, Greek authorities as well as humanitarian associations have refuted the European Commission’s accusations. Greece disposes of several hundred kilometers of maritime borders with Turkey, they point out. “The only way to act on a maritime border, it is to perform rescue operations. Or else leave the migrants to drown,” interjected recently the Greek migration minister Ioannis Mouzalas.

“Nothing will impede the migrants from attempting to cross the borders again. And this strategy will only reinforce the influence of traffickers and mafias. We see it already on the Macedonian border,” affirmed the head of the Doctors Without Borders mission to Lesbos, Daniel Huescar. His counterpart in Athens, Apostolos Viezis, lashed out against “the egoism of European nations, ready to cast the blame on their neighbors, rather than take on a collective solution” and believes it would be “catastrophic for migrants in Europe” for Greece to be temporarily excluded from the Schengen Zone.

Geographer and professor at the University of Paris Ouest-Nanterre La Defense, Guy Burgel, denounced the behavior of the Europeans, according to him, with the last of his energy. “What do we expect from Greece? That it throws back to the sea these desperate cases summoned by our guilty inaction in Syria, in Iraq or Afghanistan? That it sinks these makeshift boats or piles up these miserable people before they can reach its coastline? That it parks the refugees in concentration camps where they will rot, sheltered from either commiseration or remorse?” he deplored.

According to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, which quotes “sources close to Alexis Tsipras,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated to her Greek counterpart that an acceptance of European demands on the refugee crisis could facilitate the “understanding” of creditors in the application of the memorandum on Greek debt.

If the European Council confirms the “grave negligence” of Greece in its obligations, Athens will have three months to “remedy” the problem. If serious shortcomings persist, Brussels could decide to authorize a two-year prolongation of controls on internal borders.

This would permit Germany to prolong controls on its borders with Austria, reintroduced in September 2015, but which should be lifted, according to the “Schengen borders” code, at the end of a maximum of 8 months.

The maneuver against Greece might have as its ultimate objective that Germany, the major power in Europe, could avoid finding itself in infraction of Schengen codes, which several European policy experts have suggested would be a catastrophic scenario for the free circulation zone if it should come to pass. Enditem

Source: Xinhua

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