European Council President Donald Tusk said Friday that he will ask EU leaders next week to deploy guards and equipment to the border between Bulgaria and Turkey, as part of efforts to boost public confidence in the bloc.
The European Union is in the midst of trying to draw lessons from Britain's shock decision to leave the club. Leaders from all EU member states but Britain will meet in Bratislava on September 16 to consider the way forward.
During a whirlwind tour of European capitals before he chairs the summit, Tusk has argued that the EU will have to address widespread worries such as migration and security if it wants to regain citizens' trust.
"We need to show that we are aware, determined and capable of handling the biggest concerns," Tusk told journalists in Estonia on Friday.
"This is also why I will appeal to all 27 leaders next week in Bratislava to send concrete, operational support to Bulgaria to protect its border with Turkey, in the form of border guards and equipment," he added.
There have been some fears that migrants and refugees keen to reach Europe could try to go through Bulgaria, after the EU clamped down on flows between Turkey and Greece that severely tested the bloc's resources and unity last year.
"Never again can we allow our borders to be overrun by waves of irregular migrants as in 2015," Tusk said later Friday in Stockholm, before meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.
Helping Bulgaria protect its border would be "a concrete example of support to an EU country that is seeing more migrants trying to cross illegally into the EU," Tusk said.
"And it would be an important signal that we are serious and will not hesitate to act if and when needed," he added.
Bulgaria shares a land and sea border with Turkey, while also being one of Greece's neighbours.
Tusk in Stockholm further identified terrorism and the fear of globalization as two other major issues facing the EU, along with uncontrolled irregular migration.
"These three challenges are not unique for Europe, but they are essential for understanding the increasing lack of trust in the EU," he said. "My ambition is that in Bratislava we can agree on the main priorities and what we need to do about them in the next few months."
Tusk said he would like to see the leaders pledge to have every person crossing the EU's external borders - be they a citizen or not - checked against security databases as part of the fight against terrorism. The EU has already taken steps in this direction.
On globalization, Tusk said the bloc needs to "find a way to safeguard the interests of our citizens while remaining open to the world." He did not specify his concerns, but the EU has for instance had to contend with increasing opposition to free trade deals.
Lofven, for his part, said that Sweden would like Europe to focus more on jobs.
"We have a lot of work to do on vital areas as economy, security, climate and of course the migration issue," he added. "It is paramount that our cooperation does not get stalled by the Brexit negotiations."
Friday, September 16, 2016 - 06:00