The Greek government vehemently denied rumors that European officials were threatening to suspend the country from the passport-free travel zone known as the Schengen Zone unless it overhauls its response to the refugee crisis and did more to shore up its borders.
A Financial Times article on Wednesday referred to a Friday ultimatum to Greece to Greece, citing various high-level European sources that were angry that Greece wasn’t requesting official help, citing national jurisdiction matters on border protection.
On Thursday, government spokesperson, Olga Gerovasili said that Greece’s suspension was never raised in any high level meetings of the European Union, denying the Financial Times report and said that certain circles within the EU were “distorting reality.”
Several European ministers and senior EU officials threatened Greece, accusing the government of Alexis Tsipras of a lack of willingness to request additional support from Frontex, the EU’s border protection agency, its unwillingness to accept EU humanitarian aid; and its failure to revamp its system for registering refugees.
Tsipras’ government turned down a deployment of up to 400 Frontex staff to reinforce its border with FYROM, complaining in a letter to the European Commission that their mandate was too broad and went beyond registration of refugees, and citing also issues of national sovereignty.
Furthermore, the report in FT claims that Greek officials have yet to accept an invitation to invoke an emergency aid scheme — the EU civil protection mechanism — that would rush humanitarian support to islands and border areas.
Some believed the Greek prime minister was using the refugee crisis as leverage over his European partners to get wiggle room or compromise on various matters. A former diplomat and current ministry of foreign affairs official in Greece who asked to remain anonymous told The Pappas Post that this was a “game” that Tsipras was playing and he clearly lost the hand.
“Tsipras was playing poker with the Europeans, using the refugee crisis as an upper hand. This is why he didn’t seek official European support officially, because he would lose this bargaining power— or what he perceived was bargaining power. But Paris changed all of that,” said the official, referring to the terror attacks in the French capital.
“The Europeans lost their patience with Greece after one of the suspects slipped through a Greek island, posing as a refugee. They leaked the story to the Financial Times that certain agenda items were being discussed behind closed doors, including Greece’s removal from Schengen, and Tsipras blinked,” said the official.
On Thursday, Greece blinked— formally, requesting official European assistance to help guard its borders, formally activating what is called the RABIT mechanism— a rapid border intervention team and also formally asking for outside forces to help protect its borders.
The European Union issued a press release outlining Greece’s official request for assistance, citing also the operational plan with Frontex, the EU’s border protection agency to assist on the Greece-FYROM border, something Greece has resisted for a long time.