Why Europe won’t protect its borders

DELFI / Mindaugas Ažušilis

Although the EU has offered to help Turkey with the financial burden of its refugees in return for stronger external border control on Turkey’s part, the EU’s own external border controls remain weak. Political scientist Tomas Janeliūnas believes some countries may not even want stronger border control, as those countries would then be forced to care for the immigrants at their border instead of allowing them to continue on to other countries.

Janeliūnas, a professor at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI), emphasized that the EU’s borders are based on those of its member nations, so the nations whose borders coincide with the EU’s national borders are responsible for controlling them. When they are unable to effectively control their borders, they can ask for the EU’s help to bolster their forces. According to Janeliūnas, however, some countries may not actually be interested in doing so.

“That would mean that the refugees and illegal immigrants would have to be detained and remain in whatever country they managed to enter. When the borders are more or less porous, however, they can close their eyes and wish the refugees a pleasant journey on to the next country. It’s typical to avoid responsibility and hope that you won’t have to deal with the problem. I even think that the Greeks and Italians are abusing this, to an extent,” said Janeliūnas.

Some countries like Greece, simply do not have the funds to run their own borders control effectively, Linas Kojala, an analyst, told LRT.lt.

Kojala, an analyst at the Eastern Europe Studies Centre (RESC), also noticed the tendency to avoid responsibility. The Greeks maintain that they lack the funds they need for border protection.

“From what I’ve heard from the Greeks themselves, they say that the EU doesn’t provide enough funds for its general border control. Greece, as a nation on the front lines, feels like it alone has been left responsible for the people flocking to all of Europe. It has become a political game in which everyone tries to avoid responsibility for the issue until someone refuses to pay for it all,” said Kojala.

Merkel would support stricter border controls

There are signs that German Chancellor Angela Merkel may be about to change her position on border controls as the scale of the refugee crisis becomes apparent, and despite being awarded Time Magazine’s person of the year award for her stance on keeping open the EU’s borders to refugees.

Several months ago, Merkel insisted that there should be no limit to the number of refugees that should be accepted, strongly criticizing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s policy of tightening border controls and building fences along Hungary’s border to block refugees.

LRT’s interviewees, however, believe that Merkel would no longer object to stronger external EU border control.

“Many countries have become worried about stronger exterior border control, to a certain degree. Sweden, which is the most open country for refugees in the EU, Germany, which has said that we should be open, Austria, and others. Their rhetoric hasn’t said this, but their practical actions indicate a move towards stronger border control. Therefore, Greece’s actions, which seek to ensure an external border control mechanism that would allow them to separate refugees and asylum seekers from people trying to abuse the situation to their advantage, would probably be welcomed. I doubt any leader would allow themselves to speak openly the way Merkel did two months ago, because we now have a clearer understanding of the scale of the refugee crisis,” Kojala claimed.

Border protection incentives not enough

It is likely that special programs and increased financing would help improve external EU border control, but it would be impossible to do so smoothly without addressing problems when and where they arise.

“One way to encourage countries to want to protect their borders is through specific programs. The current incentive system isn’t persuasive enough, so countries would rather close their eyes to the streams of refugees than worry about them internally.

“The support system is already in place. Lithuania receives EU payments for every refugee it accepts. Not all countries, however, consider this support to be sufficient,” said Janeliūnas.

According to Kojala, although the EU has provided funds for countries that accept refugees, it has still prioritized its cooperation with Turkey as a solution to the problem.

“That was a politically costly decision – promises of several billion euros, the possibility of new negotiation opportunities for EU membership, and visa liberalization for Turkish citizens were all powerful forms of leverage. But this shows that Turkey was their absolute priority when dealing with this problem.

“However, for Greece and Italy, both nations with long coastal borders and numerous islands, controlling or stopping the flow of refugees is practically impossible. The problem needs to be solved at its source – Syria,” said Kojala.

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