‘Greek problem’ at heart of debates on migration
Posted by clandestina on 8 March 2012
The member states’ home affairs ministers will meet, on 8 March in Brussels, to debate governance of the border-free Schengen area and in particular the problems they are experiencing with Greece, the main gateway to Europe for 80% of “illegal migrants” (more than 60,000 caught at the border between Greece and Turkey in 2011).
This Council, at which only home affairs items will be discussed, will be more political than legislative. After their debate, the ministers will adopt conclusions drafted by the Danish EU Presidency on future ‘guidelines’ for Schengen governance, meant to be the stepping stone to agreements by June 2012. They will hold two other debates, one on the ‘Greek problem’ and the other on cooperation on migration with third countries, in particular Morocco, Libya and Turkey.
“We are no longer in a crisis situation,” said a European diplomat in reference to the Franco-Italian dispute over the entry of Tunisians to Europe after the collapse of Ben Ali’s regime last year. “The Schengen area has entered a new phase based on greater common discipline and collective actions.”
Cecilia Malmström, the commissioner with responsibility for this issue, will present the latest report by her staff on the reform of migration policy in Greece. It identifies administrative problems that persist and the still alarming detention conditions in the Evros region at the Turkish-Greek border. This will be the sixth time the Greek reform has appeared on the agenda of the Home Affairs Council, where impatience with the Greek partner is starting to be palpable as Greece continues to be kept afloat by EU funds as a result of its budget crisis. Athens has to reform its asylum procedures, set up a specialised centre for reception, identification and detection of illegal migrants, improve reception conditions for asylum seekers, vulnerable migrants and children, provide legal, social and psychological assistance, build new detention centres and strengthen its voluntary or forced expulsion policy.
As a result of a judgement by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, for the last year European countries have no longer been allowed to send back to Greece asylum seekers who entered Europe through this country (as provided for by the Dublin system) for lack of reception conditions that comply with human rights criteria.
‘Second line’ countries meet
On the eve of the Council, the ministers of seven countries in the ‘second line’ for illegal migration (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom) will meet in Brussels to review immigration issues and problems they are experiencing with Greece, which is criticised for poor surveillance of its border with Turkey. According to information obtained by Europolitics, the seven partners were set to agree five priorities to be defined in the future road map planned by the Danish EU Presidency to ensure a “coherent EU response to insistent migratory pressure”. Among these priorities, the seven states call for more common actions at the Greek border with Turkey through Frontex, the EU’s border control agency, a framework and enhanced implementation for the Greek action plan on immigration and signature of an agreement with Turkey on readmission of illegal migrants. On the latter point, Ankara ties such an agreement to visa liberalisation for its nationals wishing to enter the EU. While some member states, France among them, are said to be prepared to ease visa conditions for Turkish nationals and perhaps to go further at a later date, they do not want to include this condition in the readmission agreement with Ankara. Reluctance prevails in both Turkey and the Union as a result.