A group of member countries of the European Union (EU) asked the bloc to finance the construction of “physical barriers” to protect external borders. The 12 countries signed a letter to the European Commission as EU interior ministers meet in Luxembourg to address the migration situation amid complaints of express expulsions in Greece and Croatia.

In a letter to the European Commission, Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia they stressed that “Physical barriers appear to be an effective border protection measure, serving in the interest of the entire EU, not just the front-line Member States.” In this sense, they add, “This legitimate measure should be funded additionally and adequately as a priority from the EU budget”. The spokesman for the European Commission, Eric Mamer, reported that they received the letter and “we will reply to it in due course.”

In the letter, the 12 countries refer to the instrumentalization of migration for political purposes. “The EU needs to adapt the existing legal framework to the new realities, which will allow us to adequately address attempts to instrumentalize illegal migration for political purposes and other hybrid threats,” they wrote.

The document circulated hours before the meeting of the Interior Ministers of the European bloc in which they made a balance on the limited progress they made to negotiate the reform of immigration policy and common asylum. Part of the agenda was also to address the concern about the “instrumentalization” that countries make of migration to pressure the European Union.

Although the letter does not make specific reference to a country, the text resonates with the complaints the EU made about the attempts to Belarusian government of Alexandr Lukashenko to weaken the bloc by allowing the irregular passage of migrants to the Schengen area. This year the European Commission warned Morocco after the crisis in Ceuta in which thousands of migrants arrived at the Spanish border and also mediated with Turkey to allow the passage to Greece.

“No third country should be able to make use of our asylum system for the purpose of political pressure and blackmailing the EU and its member states or to exploit the current situation in Afghanistan,” the letter states.

The Lithuanian Interior Minister, Agné Bilotaité, stated that “it is a hybrid attack and in these types of situations we need a strong response. We understand that without a physical barrier it is impossible to protect the Lithuanian and European border. For now we can finance a surveillance system but it is not efficient ”.

Divergent opinions

For his part European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson pointed out that it is not the responsibility of the European Union to finance border protection. “I fully agree that we need to do more to strengthen the protection of our external borders. I have nothing against Member States building fences but as to whether it is a good idea to use European funding for this I must say that I do not think so “, he remarked in reference to the letter sent by the 12 European countries.

While Ales Hojs, the Minister of the Interior of Slovenia, country that currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, He was in favor of the letter and said that opinions on the subject are divergent. “We have not signed the letter, but we support it. After the disaster in 2015, Slovenia as a Member State, which has no external border, decided to put up fences and finance them with our budget. We have closed parts with the border with Croatia and will continue to do so in the future. It is clear that if we annually detain up to 14,000 illegal immigrants at the European internal border, about 50 people a day, the protection of the external border is not efficient and it is our obligation to protect it, “said Hojs.

Migration and Asylum Pact

In this sense, the European Pact on Migration and Asylum continues to stagnate amidst complaints of express expulsions in several EU countries. In the last week they met journalistic investigations that point to the police of Greece and Croatia for participating in alleged “hot returns” of irregular migrants at their borders.

Johansson described the complaints as “very worrying” and assured that it would be one of the issues to be addressed during the meeting of European ministers. “It seems fundamental to me that this information is thoroughly investigated, there is a danger of damaging the reputation of the European Union,” he said.

The ministers also supported Brussels proposals to improve controls and identification of people crossing the external borders of the EU, although they could not reach an agreement. For the MED5 countries (Spain, Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Greece) it is important that a global agreement is reached on the Migration and Asylum Pact and they do not want to advance with an isolated agreement.



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