EU coastal patrol takes shape

The European Union is moving forward with the creation of joint coastal patrols to fight illegal immigration, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said yesterday. «We are coming closer to carrying out this idea,» Bakoyannis said. «It will take time, this will not happen tomorrow, but our authorities are working together on the issue,» she added. Meeting informally at the Lagonissi seaside resort near Athens for one day, the foreign ministers of Spain, Portugal, Italy, Malta, France, Slovenia, Cyprus and Greece decided to push ahead with a proposal that would set up an EU coast guard to improve surveillance of Europe’s coastal areas and to help share the burden of patrolling the bloc’s coastlines. Greece, which has a huge coastal area and about 2,000 islands in the Aegean, has been pressing for EU nations to share the burden and the cost. According to official estimates, about 3,600 immigrants entered Greece by sea illegally last year and 112 smugglers were arrested. «It is very unfair to ask Greece to pay all the burden of blocking its borders to European immigration,» she said. The EU lacks a common immigration policy, leaving states to their own devices in patrolling their maritime borders. Illegal immigration, Bakoyannis added, «is an issue for all of us to look at together, and move forward on a common immigration policy… in a climate of solidarity and consensus.» Following up on a similar gathering in Madrid last month, the EU’s Mediterranean states said they planned to meet informally once or twice a year, according to the Greek Foreign Ministry.