Greece has failed to protect the EU’s external frontiers from migrants and faces border controls with the rest of the Schengen passport-free zone in three months if it fails to act, the European Commission said Wednesday.
The highly critical draft report by Brussels heaps pressure on Greece, the main gateway for the one million refugees and migrants who entered Europe last year in the continent’s biggest such crisis since World War II.
Based on an inspection at the Turkish land border and on several islands in the Aegean Sea, the EU found Greece was failing to properly register and fingerprint migrants.
“The draft report concludes that Greece seriously neglected its obligations and that there are serious deficiencies in the carrying out of external border controls that must be overcome and dealt with by Greek authorities,” Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told a press conference.
The report could pave the way for Brussels to authorise other member states to exceptionally extend border controls within the EU’s cherished Schengen area, including with Greece, for up to two years, instead of the normal six months.
Dombrovskis said that if a majority of the 28 EU member states adopt the report, the Commission will then draw up a plan for shoring up Greece’s borders, especially its sea frontier with Turkey.
“Greece will then have three months to implement remedial actions,” Dombrovskis said.
“If necessary remedial actions are not being taken there is a possibility … which would allow member states to temporarily close their borders.”
The Greek government insisted that the situation had changed since the inspection was carried out.
“This report dates from November but important work has been carried out since then. The next reports will be very different,” Greek junior migration minister Yannis Mouzalas told AFP in Athens.
Mouzalas rounded on his EU peers earlier this week, accusing them of “lies” as Greece did its best in hugely difficult circumstances.
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos acknowledged Greece’s efforts in dealing with the tide of migrants and refugees fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, but said it was not enough.
“We know that in the meantime Greece has started undertaking efforts towards rectifying and complying with the Schengen rules. Substantial improvements are needed,” he said in a statement.
The European Commission report comes at the worst time for Greece, just days after calls from fellow EU members for the country to be suspended from the 26-country Schengen area.
In the last few months, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France and non-EU member Norway have all introduced six-month temporary controls over the migrant crisis.
They took the step to deal with a wave of migrants moving mostly from Greece towards Germany and Sweden, the main destination for refugees and migrants in Europe.
EU interior ministers had asked the Commission on Monday to draw up a plan for a possible two-year extension to the controls.
Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner warned last week that Athens could face “temporary exclusion” from Schengen.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico on Wednesday said the EU was committing “ritual suicide” with its migration policy.
For Athens it is also an unwelcome return to the eye of the storm just months after the EU agreed a huge bailout worth 86 billion euros ($94 billion) to keep debt-wracked Greece from crashing out of the euro currency.
Dombrovskis insisted that the EU would not make Greece’s bailout status dependent on how it deals with the migration crisis.
“We are not linking the Greek (bailout) programme with Schengen-related issues,” said Dombrovskis, who took a leading role in the protracted bailout talks last year.