Turkey must strengthen its border controls before joining the EU, a group of UK lawmakers said in a report released on Monday (August 1st), warning that the country’s accession would pose risks to the security of the 27-nation bloc’s external border.
Turkey began entry talks with the Union in October 2005, but the process has stalled for various reasons and several member states remain opposed to the country ever being admitted as a full-fledged member.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule told members of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which prepared the report, that the predominantly Muslim nation is not generally expected to join the bloc until 2020 at the earliest.
Turkey’s border with EU members Bulgaria and Greece in the north represents just a tiny fragment of the one it shares with its southern and southeastern neighbours, including Syria, Iraq and Iran, which will become part of the bloc’s external frontier upon its accession.
The UK lawmakers, whose country is a staunch supporter of Turkey’s membership in the EU, described the predominantly Muslim nation’s land border with Greece as “the main loophole for irregular immigration” into the Union.
“By October 2010, about 46% of all irregular immigration detected at the EU external border took place at the land border between Greece and Turkey, and the authorities estimated that up to 350 migrants were attempting to cross the 12.5km land border near the Greek city of Orestiada every day,” they said in the report.
At Athens’s request, a team of experts from Frontex, the EU border agency, was deployed to the area in November last year to help Greece deal with the growing problem of illegal entries from Turkey.
The panel said that the number of irregular crossings dropped more than 4.5 times over a five-month period — from 7,607 in October 2010 to 1,632 in February 2011, noting that the decline may be linked to the economic downturn in Europe in recent months.
The committee recommended that the EU should amend the regulation on the body’s operations to allow it to work hand in hand with the Turkish border agencies, which it praised for their continued efforts towards better managing migration flows.
“We require a collective commitment from Greece, Turkey and the European and international law enforcement agencies to share intelligence and work together to bring down the criminal gangs who are responsible for bringing thousands of migrants into the EU each month,” Labour MP Keith Vaz, the committee’s chairman, said.
Turkish drug trafficking groups pose a significant threat to the internal security of the 27-nation bloc, the members of the committee further warned, noting that up to 80% of the heroin trafficked from Afghanistan to Western and Central Europe comes via Turkey.
According to Europol, the EU law enforcement agency, the amounts of cocaine from South America transported to the EU via Turkey and the Balkans have grown in recent years.
Although the volume of cocaine bound for the bloc’s market that is seized by the Turkish authorities has increased over the last few years, it is far below that captured along the established cocaine trafficking route through the Iberian Peninsula, the MPs said.
They also voiced concern about the high levels of human trafficking to and through Turkey by local criminal groups.
According to the committee, the EU should “make special arrangements for Turkey to take on some of the attributes of EU membership prior to full accession, in order to tackle organised drug and immigration crime more effectively”.
It also urged the new Turkish Parliament to take steps to bring into effect a data protection law to allow for a higher level of co-operation between the country’s authorities and Europol prior to accession.