Greek officials said Wednesday that certain EU countries were “falsely” accusing Athens over shortcomings shared by the bloc as a whole, such as delays in repatriating economic migrants.
“Greece has fulfilled its European obligations, despite the great difficulties involved,” Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili said. She added, “The question of Greece withdrawing from the Schengen accords has never been posed” at an EU level.
Hungary and Slovakia have recently criticized Greece for failing to adequately protect the EU’s southeastern border. And a report in the London-based “Financial Times” newspaper suggested that senior EU officials and European ministers had threatened suspension from the Schengen zone in order to pressure Greece to allow an EU force to help police its borders.
French daily “Le Monde” also reported Wednesday that Greece risks exiting the Schengen zone, saying that EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker had warned Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of the possibility.
But EU officials have downplayed any suggested that Brussels has engaged in arm-twisting with Athens.
“There are still problems, but there are improvements,” Jean Asselborn, the foreign minister of Luxembourg, who holds the rotating chairmanship of ministerial meetings on migration, told the Reuters news agency.
“We have to make sure that people aren’t talking in Brussels about Schengen and Greece, of pushing Greece out of Schengen,” Asselborn said.
He also had harsh words for a proposal by the Netherlands government to carve out a “mini-Schengen” comprising the Benelux states, Germany and Austria.
“If we want to destroy Europe, give it another kick in the guts so that Europe becomes something unrecognizable compared to our idea of solidarity, then we should keep up that talk,” he said.
Greece says most militants behind the Paris attacks were French and Belgian nationals, not migrants crossing its borders
European Council says more screening needed for refugees
Yet European Council President Donald Tusk said in an interview published Wednesday that refugees entering Europe should be screened for 18 months before being let into the EU, arguing that it is currently “too easy” to gain entry.
“Please don’t downplay the role of security. If you want to screen migrants and refugees, you need more time than only one minute to fingerprint,” Tusk said in an interview published by a half-dozen European newspapers.
The International Organization for Migration estimated in late November that nearly 860,000 migrants had landed in Europe so far this year, with over 3,500 dying while crossing the Mediterranean.