European Immigration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Wednesday warned that Greece needs to improve its border controls by mid-December, amid media reports that the country may by expelled from the Schengen Agreement if it fails to do so.
In exclusive comments made to Kathimerini, the Greek commissioner noted that the country’s timetable for action was clear and that the situation had to improve considerably by December 17, in time for a new EU Summit on the refugee and migrant crisis.
Also on Wednesday, Avramopoulos raised the issue at the College of Commissioners. Responding to a question by Kathimerini as to whether or not a Greek exit from the Schengen area was on the table, he noted that the treaty was founded “on the principles of solidarity and responsibility” and that any “effort to challenge it, in essence challenges these very principles, has no benefit and does not offer a solution.”
Avramopoulos further noted that “The refugee crisis we’re faced with is unprecedented. It does not solely concern first reception or destination countries, but Europe as a whole.”
“Despite the stifling pressure put on Greece, it is absolutely vital for the country to complete this effort which will lead to tangible results,” the commissioner said.
In his comments to Kathimerini, Avramopoulos stressed that “the immediate and complete implementation of agreed measures at recent summits, both by Greece as well as by other members states, will reinforce safety at sea borders as well as reintroduce control at the northern borders, where non-identified migrants are trying to continue their journey toward the north.”
“The Greek government is aware of the need to speed up the process based on the agreed timetables,” he added.
Asked about the timetable, Avramopoulos said “the situation must have improved substantially by December 17, both in terms of the sea and the land borders.”
“I’m optimistic that this will put an end to theories of either a Schengen zone collapse or the country exiting the treaty,” the commissioner said.
Pressure on Greece appeared to mount on Tuesday when top EU officials warned that the country faced suspension from the Schengen passport-free travel zone unless it met obligations to exercise stricter border controls.
In a Financial Times report on Tuesday, an anonymous EU ambassador was quoted saying that “the Germans are furious and that’s why people are talking about pushing Greece out.”
In a statement Wednesday, Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said "European circles insist on distorting reality and keep believing that Europe's future can be built on phobic reflexes, fences and exclusion."
"These same circles have been promoting during the last days this hostile environment towards Greece by unacceptably threatening the country with exiting the Schengen Treaty."