Greece at helm of EU coast guard

The European Commission is moving ahead with plans to create a European coast guard – an initiative first proposed by Greece – as other EU member states are increasingly eager to crack down on illegal immigration and cross-border crime, sources have told Kathimerini. Already, the EU’s external border security agency (Frontex) has conducted a series of operations in the Mediterranean aimed at curbing illegal immigration, the sources said. And already Greece appears to be playing a key role in developments. The chief of Frontex’s sea border unit is reportedly a senior Greek coast guard official and all actions are planned in association with the Piraeus-based EU Sea Borders Center. Most recently, a joint Greek-Italian operation in the central and eastern Aegean led to the arrest of 137 illegal immigrants and nine smugglers between June 25 and July 2. The initiative, code-named «Poseidon,» conducted round-the-clock inspections at specific harbors (including Chios, Lesvos and Samos as well as in Patras, Igoumenitsa, Bari and Brindisi) enlisting the help of observers from eight different countries. Apart from cracking down on illegal immigration and human trafficking, a common coast guard would help EU countries fight drug smuggling, arms trafficking and curb potential terrorist attacks, the same sources maintained. «Operations (like Poseidon) help us to improve the coordination of national forces and highlight the need for the creation of a European coast guard which would be coordinated by Frontex and would serve to monitor the EU’s sea borders,» a Greek coast guard official, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Kathimerini. The EU has earmarked 841,000 euros to conduct a feasibility study on the establishment of a European coast guard. At the end of last month, Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras criticized the EU for not doing enough to tackle the problems that Greece, and other European countries, face with illegal immigrants trying to get into their countries. Polydoras told the EU that Greece would undertake responsibility for guarding the EU’s sea borders if Brussels would cover the cost of the operation.