EU urged to pay for border fences to prevent migrants from entering

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TTHE EUROPEAN UNION has a firm stance on paying border walls: it won’t. Even after Europe’s migration crisis in 2015-16, when 1.4 million people arrived, many fleeing the civil war in Syria, the European Commission sent Hungary back with a national bug when it demanded reimbursement of the fence of its border with Serbia, one of the main entry points.

Nothing in the Schengen Borders Code, which governs border management, a responsibility shared between the EU and its member states, prevents the commission from paying for the fences. But the opinion in Brussels is that they are expensive and inefficient. They can be climbed. They divert rather than discourage migrants. And they hamper genuine refugees with the right to asylum. The EU send border guards and pay for high-tech solutions instead.

But the committee is now being asked to change its mind. It comes as the number of first-time asylum seekers this spring has almost doubled compared to 2020 (when covid-19 made travel difficult). Meanwhile, Belarus maliciously tries to round up Iraqi asylum seekers in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, possibly in retaliation for EU sanctions against his government rigging the elections. And many Europeans expect many Afghans to arrive soon. This month, 12 member states wrote to the committee calling for changes to the way the EU tackles border security. Among other things, they want Brussels to pay for the fences. A physical barrier “serves the interests of [the] whole EU, not just the Member States of first arrival ”, he argues. Such things, he said, should be “adequately funded by the EU budget in priority ”.

The group, which includes Hungary, Latvia, Austria, Poland and Greece, was led by Lithuania, which wants EU taxpayers to cover 75% of the 152 million euros ($ 176 million) it will spend on a three-meter-high fence at its border with Belarus. The project should end next September. This summer Politics reported that Lithuania and Greece had requested funding for their own barriers. Greece wanted help paying for a € 60million extension of its fence along its northeast border with Turkey. It is a preventive measure, in case those Afghans arrive, and a “necessity” for border protection, a Greek spokesperson said.

The commission did not formally respond. But last week its president, Ursula von der Leyen, apparently rejected the request at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels. “There will be no funding for barbed wire and walls,” she reportedly told leaders. But some observers believe that could change if enough member states continue to insist.

The committee is already taking a stricter approach to migration. The EUFrontex joint border force receives more money and personnel; and the commission also proposed to create a union-wide eviction coordinator, although arguing EU countries should take how many asylum seekers delayed this. The EUSwedish Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson called fencing a tactic to slow migration. During a recent visit to Lithuania, she called the country’s closure a “good idea”. UE CCommissioners learned from the 2015-2016 migrant crisis that welcoming large numbers of asylum seekers comes at a political cost, says Roderick Parkes of the German Council on Foreign Relations, a Berlin-based think tank. Building a wall does not.

European countries have built around 1,000 km (600 miles) of border fences over the past 30 years, most of it since 2015. Today, more than half of all EU states have a physical barrier at an external border. As fencing becomes more normal, it will be more difficult for the commission to refuse to fund it, Mr Parkes said. Member States will argue that physical barriers are now part of the routine border protection that EU shares the responsibility of financing. And even if the EU won’t pay, some states have found ways to build fences without throwing all the costs on their own taxpayers. Lithuania, for example, will not pay for its barrier on its own. The Czech Republic has already pledged to send the country 530,000 € to speed up the work.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Bank transfer”


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