Clashes on Greece’s Border Add to List of Problems for EU Leaders

Migrants clash with Greek police on the buffer zone Turkey-Greece border, at Pazarkule, in Edirne district, on February 29, 2020. – Thousands of migrants stuck on the Turkey-Greece border clashed with Greek police on February 29, 2020, according to an AFP photographer at the scene. Greek police fired tear gas at migrants who have amassed at a border crossing in the western Turkish province of Edirne, some of whom responded by hurling stones at the officers. The clashes come as Greece bolsters its border after Ankara said it would no longer prevent refugees from crossing into Europe following the death of 33 Turkish troops in northern Syria.

OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images

European leaders are facing an unprecedented range of problems, from new tensions at the Greek border, trade talks with the U.K. and internal divisions over money. All of this while the coronavirus keeps spreading across the 27-member bloc and fuels fears of an economic recession.

“This is one of those situations where everyone should, and has to, hope that creativity, energy, and solidarity will rise to match the occasion,” Erik Jones, professor of European studies at Johns Hopkins University, told CNBC Monday.

Leaders of the top three European institutions are headed to Greece Tuesday to visit the border with Turkey, where migrants have been arriving since Friday in the hope they will be able to cross into EU territory. On Saturday, Greek police fired teargas toward the migrants who were demanding entry into the country and were reportedly hurling stones and shouting obscenities.

The tensions at the border come after Turkey decided to end a previous agreement with European countries and allow refugees fleeing war to try to reach Europe. Turkey has argued it has reached overcapacity with almost 4 million refugees coming from Syria, Afghanistan and other war-torn places, while also blaming the EU for not supporting its troops in Syria.

The issue is highly sensitive in Europe and brings back memories of 2015, when more than 1 million people arrived in Greece. At the time, some EU countries were reluctant to accept a redistribution of migrants and the topic was heavily used by anti-EU and anti-immigration parties across the region.

“The risk of a partial replay of the migrant crisis of 2015/2016 will ring alarm bells across the EU,” Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg bank, said Monday in a note to clients. “A major new tide of migrants, which we consider unlikely at this stage, could again boost support for latently anti-EU right-wingers in Europe,” he added.

Matteo Salvini, one of the most well-known anti-immigration politicians in Europe, has commented on the latest episodes at the Greek border, saying via a translation: “A serious European Union would preside over (guard) its borders, we risk a catastrophe.”

‘Lack of EU leadership’

In addition to the tensions at the Greek border, the EU started Monday their first talks with the U.K. over their future trading links. The negotiations are expected to be difficult given how far apart both sides are at this stage.

In the meantime, European leaders are still at odds over how to fund and spend the next EU budget — a common basket that is aimed at financing projects across the 27 countries. Some analysts have told CNBC that if leaders mishandled these negotiations, this could also boost anti-EU sentiment in various European states.

“The hope there is that Europe and the West come to Turkey’s rescue, but I would not bet on that given the lack of leadership at present in Europe, focus on Brexit and the EU budget debate and the fact that (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan now has few allies in Europe,” Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, said in a note Friday.

At the same time, the EU has seen more confirmed cases of the new coronavirus on Monday. European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said Monday there are more than 2,100 cases of the virus confirmed in 18 of the 27 EU countries.

Amid the spread of the virus, Berenberg bank said in a note Monday that “for companies that need a full year of revenues to make profit or break even, the prospect of more than a month of lost revenue while they continue to pay out wages and other such costs is a serious problem.”

The added pressure on the European economy comes at a time when there were already concerns about the pace of growth in the region, namely in Germany — its largest economy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) downgraded its growth forecasts for the euro zone to 0.8% from 1.1% in 2020 on Monday.

Author: Silvia Amaro

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