EU boosts border guard presence along busy Balkan route

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — The European Union on Wednesday signed an agreement with North Macedonia to deploy officers from the Frontex bloc border protection agency to the small Balkan country as it expands its scope in neighboring non-Member States.

The signing ceremony in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, was attended by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.

“This agreement is not only very important because it strengthens our cooperation on migration, but also because it shows that… we fully hope that North Macedonia will now move forward on the European path,” von der Leyen said. .

The country has long sought to join the 27-nation bloc and is expected to begin membership talks in July.

Illegal migration along the so-called Western Balkan route, which crosses much of the former Yugoslavia, has steadily increased since 2018. More than 105,000 illegal border crossings from the region into the EU have detected by Frontex between January and September, a sharp increase from the 2021 annual total of almost 62,000.

Frontex already has agreements with the Western Balkan countries Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina – all of which are seeking to join the bloc – but wants to extend its powers there to have a presence in the border areas which are not only contiguous with EU member states.

It has also pledged to provide €350 million to support the fight against illegal immigration in these four partner countries between 2021 and 2024, increasing the amount initially budgeted by 60%.

Von der Leyen, who met with North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski, also pledged continued EU support to Western Balkan countries to help develop alternatives to natural gas from Russia, a major supplier. regional, adding that the EU was committed to a new round of expansion.

She announced budget support worth €80 million to help North Macedonia cope with the impact of high energy prices on households and businesses, adding that grants of one A total of €500 million would be made available to non-member states in the region to invest in energy connections. , energy efficient infrastructure and renewable energy.

“I am deeply convinced that Europe and the European Union are not complete without North Macedonia,” she said. “We want to have you with us. We are friends, we are partners and one day we will be in one European Union.”

EU officials have not announced details of Frontex’s planned new deployment. Von der Leyen will then travel to Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro.

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Gatopoulos brought from Athens, Greece

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Follow AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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