The EU Commission will have to struggle to implement its new border protection plan which entails curtailing the sovereignty of its member states. The EU should focus on feasible measures, writes DW's Bernd Riegert.
The EU Commission intends to spend a great deal of money to expand the current border protection agency into an independent border and coast guard. Until now, the agency has advised member states on a volunteer basis. The new organization will require 1,000 employees, 300 million euros and a swift intervention troop consisting of at least 1,500 border patrol guards. The negative experiences with lax border controls in Greece and Italy have infuriated EU Commission President Juncker, so he's now slamming them politically. The Commission wants to centralize political powers in Brussels and take part of the member states' sovereignty away from them.
This endeavor is controversial as border control falls under the jurisdiction of the individual states and a great deal of resistance is expected. Many governments, from Warsaw to Prague and Bratislava to Athens have become so critical of the EU that they will not allow the Commission's paternalism. Although the heads of state and government have officially called upon Juncker's Commission to improve the protection of the EU's exterior borders, most of them did not anticipate the fact that Juncker would actually put together a European troop with its laws. It is highly doubtful that he will find the needed consent of the individual nations. It is still not clear whom the coast guard is supposed to protect Europe from. Will refugee boats be picked up by border protection forces in the Mediterranean and sent back to Turkey or Libya? Will they be forced away instead of saved?
It will take years
Too many practical problems exist at the moment. The EU Commission does not even know how many border patrol officers or how many coast guard ships work in the member states. Risks will be analyzed, and an emergency plan will be devised for every country. Many political insiders realize that a great deal of development work will be needed to establish an effective European agency, and EU Commission has set the optimistic goal of 2020. It is thus clear that the new Euro border protection idea will have little impact on the current refugee crisis. The plan is meant for future crises. One of the scenarios that authorities at the Commission are thinking about is people leaving the Ukraine if the conflict with Russia worsens.
Greece is the key
The only thing that would help in the current refugee crisis is to take a hard line with Greece and force the country to organize proper vetting procedures and, at least, register the refugees. That could happen right now even without a new EU agency, but requires Athens' political desire to cooperate. So far, the left-right-wing coalition government has been evasive, like its predecessors, and has been changing its stance much too slowly. Europe has provided enough money to help Greece with its border patrols, even though the responsible minister laments in an intolerable manner that the Greeks have been left high and dry. It is a tragic coincidence of geography that the EU's economically and politically weakest link lies on the troubled southeastern edge of the continent.
As long as the external borders are permeable, more countries will reinstate border patrols in the borderless Schengen zone. Watering down the Schengen agreement would be inconvenient, but it is not the end of the European Union. The EU would only paralyze itself if the EU Commission and member states become entangled in a long dispute over political power and sovereignty.
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