EU leaders to fast-track plan for new border force

Details to be finalised by mid-2016; leaders urged to implement measures to rein in influx of migrants

BRUSSELS • European Union lead- ers pledged to fast-track the establishment of an EU border and coastguard force at a summit, where they again urged one another to implement measures agreed this year to curb migration across the Mediterranean.

By the middle of next year, they decided at a summit yesterday, they would agree on the details of the new border force, which was proposed by the EU executive earlier this week.

Some leaders, including Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, made clear, however, that they wanted to strike out a controversial element of the proposal, which would give Brussels power to send in EU border guards without a country's consent.

Summing up the three-hour discussion, the summit chairman, European Council president Donald Tusk, said leaders had agreed there was a "delivery deficit" in making good on a series of measures agreed over recent months to stem chaotic movements that have put Europe's Schengen open-borders area in jeopardy.

Greece and Italy are under pressure to do more to manage and identify those arriving - a million or more so far this year - while governments, in general, have yet to make good on promises to help take in asylum seekers and deport unwanted migrants.

"Over the past months, the European Council has developed a strategy aimed at stemming the unprecedented migratory flows Europe is facing," the final agreement read.

"However, implementation is insufficient and has to be speeded up. For the integrity of Schengen to be safeguarded, it is indispensable to regain control over the external borders," it added.

Greece and Italy are under pressure to do more to manage and identify those arriving - a million or more so far this year - while governments, in general, have yet to make good on promises to help take in asylum seekers and deport unwanted migrants.

There are only two fully operational "hot spots" for screening of migrants arriving to Italy and Greece from 11 that are supposed to be set up.

Only about 200 migrants who have already arrived at the two states were relocated to other EU countries under a deal that is intended to cover 160,000.

Greece and Italy have been overwhelmed by the arrivals and have shifted the blame on other EU members for encouraging the flows or not offering the right assistance.

The leaders urged more security checks for databases and fingerprinting - a procedure those who make the perilous journey to Europe often try to avoid as, under EU rules, it would require them to claim asylum in Greece or Italy, while many aim for Germany or other wealthier states to the north.

The EU said it wants to help Syrians and others fleeing wars and, therefore, potentially eligible for asylum, but wants to separate those coming from places where they are less at risk.

Leaders agreed that their envoys in Brussels should try to agree quickly on how to fund 3 billion euros (S$4.6 billion) promised to Turkey for helping curb migrant flows to Greece.

Diplomats said a deal is in the works, under which possibly 1 billion euros will come from central EU funds and the rest from national treasuries.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'EU leaders to fast-track plan for new border force'. Print Edition | Subscribe