KAPITAN-ANDREEVO, Bulgaria: The EU launched its beefed-up border force Thursday in a rare show of unity by the squabbling bloc as it seeks to tackle its worst migration crisis since World War II.
European Union officials inaugurated the new task force at the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint on the Bulgarian-Turkish border, the main land frontier for migrants seeking to enter the bloc and avoid the dangerous Mediterranean sea crossing.
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCG) will have at its disposal some 1,500 officers from 19 member states who can be swiftly mobilised in case of an emergency, like a sudden surge of migrants.
Brussels hopes the revamped agency will not just increase security, but also help heal the huge rifts that have emerged between member states clashing over the EU’s refugee policies.
The long-term goal is to lift border controls inside the bloc and fully restore the passport-free Schengen Zone.
“The new agency is stronger and better equipped to tackle migration and security challenges,” EBCG director Fabrice Leggeri said at the launch.
The force will also conduct stress tests at the bloc’s external borders to “identify vulnerabilities before a crisis hits”, he added.
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos hailed the launch as a “historical day for the European Union”.
“From now onwards, the external EU border of one member state is the external border of all member states — both legally and operationally,” he said.
“Countries like Bulgaria, Greece and Italy are still under pressure, but they are not alone.”