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Authority of new EU force to supercede that of member states

Angelos Tzortzinis, AFP | Migrants from Somalia stand behind a fence outside a temporary housing facility for migrants located in a former Olympic hall in Faliro suburb of Athens, on December 13, 2015

The European Commission unveiled plans for a new external border and coastguard force that will be able to intervene even without the host country's consent on Tuesday, saying it had to restore EU security threatened by the migration crisis.

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The new agency will have a rapid reaction force of 1,500 guards and a "right to intervene" in European Union nations that are either overwhelmed by a migration influx or are deemed to be failing to secure their frontiers.

With 1 million mainly Syrian refugees and migrants set to arrive in Europe by the end of this year, the record movement has raised fears for the future of the EU's passport-free Schengen zone. The November 13 Paris attacks, which were planned by a cell in Brussels, have also raised fresh security concerns.

But some member states in the 28-nation EU are hostile to the idea of ceding sovereignty over their own borders to bureaucrats in Brussels.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said the new force could take over management of national borders in only "exceptional situations" in which a member state was unable to cope on its own.

"This is a safety net which, like all safety nets, we hope will never need to be used. But it is essential to restore the credibility of our border management system," Timmermans said, as he presented the plan to the European Parliament.

Brussels also set out plans to resettle some refugees directly from Turkey, the main transit point for most of the refugees arriving in Europe.

'Step in right direction'

Germany and other EU countries have, in the last few weeks, reintroduced temporary border controls to cope with the crisis, the largest of its kind since World War II.

The fear is that if those controls become permanent, the 26-country Schengen zone that encapsulates one of the EU's core principle of freedom of movement would collapse, undermining the idea of a single, united Europe.

The new border guard system will replace the EU's largely toothless Frontex agency, which has failed to tackle the flows of people from Turkey to Greece and through the western Balkans, mainly because of a lack of manpower.

EU leaders will discuss the new plan -- which has been drawn up by the Commission, the EU's powerful executive arm -- at a summit on Thursday and Friday, said European Council President Donald Tusk.

"We must regain control over our external borders to stem migratory flows and to preserve Schengen," Tusk said in his invitation letter to leaders.

The border guard plan won the approval of European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who said the EU had to be able to act when member states could not meet their responsibilities.

"That the EU creates common instruments to help and intervene, that is completely normal. The European Commission's proposals ... are a step in the right direction," Schulz told AFP.

Refugee rights

But the plan faces being severely watered down by EU member states before the as-yet-unnamed agency comes into being.

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said Monday that the replacement of Warsaw-based Frontex "by a structure that is independent of member states is shocking".

Rights group Amnesty International said the EU border guard plan "must not be at the expense of migrant and refugee rights".

The new border system is just one part of the EU's multi-pronged strategy aimed at stemming the unprecedented flow of refugees and migrants seeking a new life in Europe.

Many of the other measures are struggling to have an effect.

A controversial plan to relocate refugees around the EU to relieve the pressure on frontline states like Greece and Italy has so far seen only a few hundred people transferred out of a planned total of 160,000.

The EU has, meanwhile, been accused of pandering to Turkey despite concerns over human rights, signing a €3 billion ($3.2 billion) aid deal and agreeing to relaunch the country's moribund EU membership process.

In exchange Turkey, which is home to more than 2 million Syrian refugees, agreed to try to limit the numbers of people travelling to Europe and to tackle the human traffickers who profit from desperate people trying to make the journey.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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