European Immigration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Friday sought to play down fears of Greece being excluded from Schengen, as European Union governments gave Athens three months to remedy “serious deficiencies” in managing its borders or face suspension from Europe’s passport-free travel zone.
“Today the European Council adopted, as expected, the recommendations for addressing the deficiencies and shortcomings at Greece’s borders – which are also the external borders of Schengen,” Avramopoulos said during a visit to Athens for talks with the leftist-led government that has found itself under escalating pressure to take action.
“The process will not necessarily trigger Article 26,” he said in reference to an emergency provision foreseen in the Schengen Borders Code which allows temporary border controls within the area for up to two years.
“An exclusion from Schengen is not on the cards,” the Greek official said, adding that all sides were working to protect free movement.
Despite opposition from Athens, a vote in an EU ministerial council Friday gave Greece three months to implement no less than 50 recommendations to tighten border checks.
Proposed actions cover several areas including registration procedures, sea border surveillance, border checks procedures, risk analysis, human resources and training, infrastructure and equipment and international cooperation.
The document did acknowledge that Greece is, “mainly due to its geographical situation, particularly affected” by the ongoing migration and refugee crisis.
However, it said that Greece must “within one month… establish an action plan to remedy the deficiencies identified in the evaluation report” – a reference to a Commission evaluation that was based on unannounced site visits to the Greek-Turkish land border as well as to the islands of Chios and Samos between November 10 and 13, 2015.
“Within three months of the same date it shall report on the implementation,” it said.
Some 2,000 people are crossing the Aegean on a daily basis from Turkey. Six Schengen members have introduced border restrictions to date.
During a visit to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Friday, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told officials in Skopje that they should be “ready to completely stop” the flow of migrants across the country’s southern frontier with Greece. Kurz said that Austria would have to take similar action within months.