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  • The story behind the checks at German airports

    ΤοΒΗΜΑ Team

    Two days before the scheduled EU Justice and Home Affairs Council on 12 October in Luxembourg, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière sent a letter to the European Commission requesting the temporary re-institution of border checks at its land border with Austria, and for passengers traveling on airplane flights from Greece.

    The legal basis of the German move is article 25 of the Schengen Border Code: “The reintroduction of internal border control might exceptionally be necessary in the case of a serious threat to public policy or to internal security at the level of the area without internal border control or at national level, in particular following terrorist incidents or threats, or because of threats posed by organised crime.”

    Germany cited the security situation and threats that arise from continuing “significant secondary movement of migrants”, who enter one EU country en route for another.

    De Maizière had previously notified Greek Alternate Minister for Citizen Protection Nikos Toscas. Ministry sources say that Toscas viewed the move with consternation. He asked his German counterpart not to bring the matter to the Council, so as to avoid unnecessary tensions that would force Athens to react.

    The said Council meeting discussed changes in the Schengen Border Code. The European Commission’s proposal was to allow member-states to reinstate border checks on travel documents for a period of one year, as compared to the current six-month limit.

    According to Greek citizen protection ministry sources, De Maizière underlined to Toscas that there is time before border checks are instated to see what can be done.

    But they say that even until today, the German side has yet to present credible evidence regarding the number of passengers with falsified travel documents who had arrived on German territory on flights from Greece.

    The same ministry sources say that the 1,000 figure made public by the German interior ministry has not been adequately documented.

    In addition, the list of “dangerous” people includes citizens of countries whose citizens can travel to the EU without inspection because they are included in the visa liberalisation programme: Albania, Georgia, Armenia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Migrants who travel from Greece to Germany do not use passports, but rather the “triptych” document that is given to them by Greek authorities.

    The Greek side believes that De Maizière is “targeting Greece as a scapegoat once again, as he has over the last seven years”. This view was expressed in a non-paper distributed by the Greek foreign ministry to diplomatic correspondents.

    Toscas repeatedly told his German counterpart that the issue must be handled with discreetly, and that if the checks are performed on all passengers it would also create a political problem for German citizens traveling from Greece to Germany.

    Toscas told his German counterpart that he wants to send Greek policemen to German airports to assist in passport checks, just as German police do at Greek airports. Three or four Greek policeman will reportedly be dispatched to Germany, for an as yet undetermined time-frame.

    A top-level Greek Police official, Zaharoula Tsirigoti, on 12 November visited Munich and Frankfurt, accompanied by the police attaché of the German Embassy in Athens, so as to see the situation on the ground and meet with the head of German Federal Police (BPOL).

    Tsirigoti observed that the checks were being performed on all passengers, which created serious problems.
    In some cases the check was performed at the jet bridge. In others, as at the Stuttgart airport, passengers are bused to an area set aside for non-Schengen Area citizens. The citizen protection ministry said that De Maizière had offered assurance that this would not be done, but that commitment was not kept.

    It appears that the Greek government decided, at a high level, not to push matters to extremes.

    There was no official demarche filed in Berlin, but there were strong representations by the Greek side in contacts with the German state.

    The Greek side, citing the paltry data that Berlin has provided so far on the supposed number of fake travel documents, is convinced that the institution of border checks on Greeks was a political decision, and not an operational one.

    At a staff-level meeting between representatives of Greece, Germany and the European Commissioner for Migration, yesterday in Brussels, Berlin offered assurances that the situation in Stuttgart will be corrected.
    Both sides hope that the issue may be resolved before the next Justice and Home Affairs Council, on 7-8 December.

    Angelos Athanasopoulos

    International