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Mistrust and Different Priorities Vex EU-Macedonian Security Cooperation

May 27, 2016

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: while the migrant crisis has been widely covered, no one has provided a comparative analysis of the different prioritizations of security issues by the EU and Macedonia- or the reasons for this. This comprehensive overview not only does this, but also contains two appendices, with new and unique official relevant data from the Macedonian Ministry of Defence (regarding expenses and damages suffered due to migration), and the EU Delegation in Skopje (regarding present and future EU support for Macedonia in the migration issue).

By Chris Deliso

Eidomeni Camp: Closure as Incitement to Unconventional Methods

Yesterday’s closure of the Greek-Macedonian border camp of Eidomeni eases a siege situation that had developed for months, as over 13,000 migrants guided by activists tried to assail the border, significantly challenging both Greek and Macedonian security forces. But even with this specific closure, the reality is that almost 30,000 migrants remain in Northern Greece for the medium-term.

Macedonian soldiers scan the horizon at the Greek border (MOD photo)

Intelligence suggests that they will remain (or try to independently escape) throughout the tourist season, with further moves likely in September. If, as we warned in a May 15th analysis, Macedonia is forced to make further troop reductions, this could leave 150 soldiers or less to man a long and difficult border where armed migrant smugglers are still active on a daily basis. People forget (or simply don’t know) that the current border replicates the WWI front lines, and the deadlock between opposing forces there lasted for years with only slight alterations. S, just because a certain battle is now over hardly means that the war has been won. Certainly, no one involved feels that they have achieved their optimal goals.

The relocation of migrants to government-authorized camps will however, lull the EU into a false sense of security, minimizing its security prioritization on both sides of the border. Balkanalysis.com expects that this will prove a dangerous miscalculation, as a second wave of migrants (either during or after the summer) is bound to arrive, while traffickers will continue to operate, leading to bottlenecks further up the route as is currently the case at the Serbian-Hungarian border.

A Call to Action

Both migrants and anarchists view the closure as merely a temporary setback, and it is already giving them motivation as they see it as not only a logistical, but also an ideological challenge: indeed, the activist-related German Indymedia site on May 26 defined Eidomeni as “a symbol of the struggle for freedom of movement on the borders of Europe,” and specified May 30-June 5 as a period of “decentralized and creative actions.”

The activists describe this as “a call for international solidarity and outrage under the slogan #overthefortress.” Such rhetoric has defined the entire migrant-crisis experience. The Eidomeni camp provided valuable experience for what we predicted in December 2015 as the convergence of migrant, activist and anarchist cooperation. This has since been confirmed in both information warfare and communications (social media) spontaneous organization, as well as more clever and militarized techniques of border invasion.

The EU and Macedonia: a Legacy of Mistrust

While both parties are cooperating, significant mutual mistrust exists between Macedonian authorities and the European Union on security matters. This is due to both general differences of mentality and specific contentious experiences. Although subtle, this simmering mistrust may have negative consequences in the case of a renewed migrant surge this summer.

Soldiers guard a dangerous river, where they rescued 4 migrants in March (MOD photo)

Soldiers guard a river, where they rescued 4 migrants in March (MOD photo)

Skopje and Brussels clearly have fundamental differences regarding the prioritization of national security, compared to other issues. This would be bad enough at any time, but is especially problematic now, as Macedonia remains the guardian of Europe’s external borders. While the Balkan Route is closed, hundreds continue to try and infiltrate the border daily.

The differences in priority perception represent not only cultural and national differences, but also ideological ones. And they have been exacerbated by a legacy of mistrust generated over the past years. Both sides feel that their positions have been misunderstood or manipulated, which has led to further behind-the-scenes infighting. Further, individual EU member states have wildly opposing views on security and migration, meaning that the EU Delegation can hardly present a unified stance when dealing with the Macedonians.

The Basic Ideological Difference: Prioritization of Security

Macedonia is located in an occasionally turbulent region and has long experience with security threats, ranging from organized crime to terrorist attacks. It suffered a near-civil war just 15 years ago, and its neighbors are hardly always friendly. Macedonians thus tend to see national security as preliminary to everything else.

This sentiment was literally expressed in an April 11 Youtube video went viral of a Macedonian soldier saying ‘I am ready to die for my country’ while being stoned by Eidomeni’s militarized migrants on the Greek side of the border fence.

EU envoys, on the other hand, tend to come from wealthier, more placid countries that have been at peace for decades. They are not psychologically burdened by having to live through constant, intense existential political and national crises every day for the past 25 years. They are thus less inclined to view national security as the core issue. This is not just hypothetical, as we have confirmed the psychology of many dozens of diplomatic cases over a long period.

Recently, a senior official at the EU Delegation in Skopje indirectly confirmed this attitude again for Balkanalysis.com, implying that Macedonia’s focus on security is sometimes seen as covering for a perceived lack of will on “political and rule of law reform.” An EU member state ambassador in the country was even blunter: “[the Macedonians] want to focus on the migrant crisis, so they can keep ignoring their political responsibilities to Przino [Agreement implementation].”

The cumulative analysis gained from long interaction with both sides reveals that the EU (and some other Western states, such as the US) does not regard the migrant crisis as a serious issue, as they believe the southern border with Greece will remain closed permanently. Especially now with the closure of Eidomeni, they expect the problem to disappear, and that Macedonia will need less support. But as we reported last time, this is not a given. The EU official cited above believes that Turkey “will not send more [migrant waves] because they know their strategic interest is with the EU.”

Soldiers maneuver through Macedonia’s intricate border fence system (MOD photo)

It is unclear how pervasive this line of thinking is within the EU at large, but the fact that the Skopje EU Delegation seems to believe it is very concerning- and especially so for the Macedonian security forces, which face budgetary constrictions and extensive materiel damage (see Appendix 1). The promised EU aid (cited in Appendix II) is still in tender phase and, given the glacial pace, of EU bureaucracy, cannot be expected to arrive soon.

Our official request for further clarification on this matter went unanswered by the Delegation.

Attitude Problems: Perceived EU Indifference or Lack of Support for Counter-terrorism Efforts

Following from the ideological difference in threat perception, the EU and Macedonia also have different views of actual security events. This also feeds strong mistrust. This was most dramatically (but not most recently) seen with the EU’s perceived lack of support for the Macedonian police’s counterterrorism operation in Kumanovo last May.

Reactions from the EU and European diplomats ranged from cautious expressions of concern to outright dismay that the terrorists had not succeeded. These reactions reinforced long-standing local suspicions of EU motives. Most ambassadors were missing in action during President Gjorge Ivanov’s recent posthumous awarding of medals of honor for the eight policemen killed in Kumanovo. As has been officially stated since that action, EU allies failed to respond to Macedonian requests for intelligence-sharing during the spring, when a potential terrorist threat had been identified. This failure to cooperate will not be forgotten anytime soon. A recent report in local media that police have prevented yet another terrorist incursion in the Lipkovo area has only increased the distrust in EU and general Western ‘allies.’

Operative Restrictions: Macedonia as a ‘Third Country’

Being a mere candidate country, Macedonia is considered a ‘third country’ by the EU. This designation negatively affects security cooperation capabilities, as is similarly the case with other countries equally burdened by the migrant crisis such as Serbia and Turkey.

Macedonia is thus prevented from contributing migrant data to EURODAC, the EU’s fingerprint database for asylum seekers. Although liberal lawmakers in the EU consistently try to weaken its scope, EURODAC can be used under strict conditions by law enforcement to track criminals and terrorists.

Considering the gravity of the situation with the migration crisis, and the fact that several of the Paris and Brussels attackers transited the Balkan corridor, one would think the EU would make an exception now. Macedonian security officials, however, were rebuffed when offering to share data on over 500,000 registered migrants since last summer.

This was a particularly serious loss for the EU’s internal security, since Greece had not registered many of these people at all. As Germany and other EU countries have admitted, there are hundreds of thousands of migrants roaming Europe with no known identities, thanks to Angela Merkel’s poorly thought-out open-door policy of 2015. This will manifest in terrorist attacks, increased organized crime, and underground intelligence network development in coming years.

The fact of being a ‘third country’ also means that Macedonia must make official requests for assistance via the local EU Delegation, which must then interface with Brussels. Several cases exist that indicate mistrust in the reliability of this process, as when the Delegation failed to pass on an early official request for assistance from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior. (We will explore that subject another time in more detail). The end result has been frustration, lies, deception and anger. In general, it is clear that Macedonia and the EU have not enjoyed a happy relationship in migration assistance coordination during the past year.

On the other hand, the EU Delegation official cited above does inform us that the EU is paying the costs for border police assistance from EU states which have bilateral agreements with Macedonia for border protection. Support for Macedonia has only come from individual states, as with the May 6 visit of Hungarian General Tibor Benko to the border. Hungary, along with Slovakia, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic, has been a strong supporter of Macedonia’s defensive efforts. It will be worth noting whether other factors (like the election of a liberal Austrian president) will change any of these relationships.

Misunderstandings over Money and the Future Capacities and Role of Germany

On the other hand, the unrequested appointment of a German envoy for solving Macedonia’s political crisis means that Berlin will become heavily involved in domestic affairs. We expect that the behavior of this special envoy will potentially cause a backlash against German interests at home and abroad.

The German government is already both increasingly antagonistic towards the Macedonian leadership, and increasingly incompetent in its own security management capacities, since the April 27 firing of BND chief Gerhard Schindler. Intelligence officials from around the region who were consulted unanimously consider this a “disaster,” as Schindler was a competent and well-respected “man of action.” The decision to replace him with a technocrat leaves much room for poor decision-making with long-term ramifications.

The Merkel cabinet has been furious with Macedonia for a long time already. It has reacted both directly, and instrumentalized the Enlargement Commission of Johannes Hahn for making further attacks. Germany controls the EU through bureaucracy; according to diplomatic sources, the key figure in the Merkel cabinet’s anti-Macedonian policy is Hahn’s chief of cabinet, Michael Karnitschnig. This Austrian technocrat served previously under Barroso, was once seconded to a German MFA position, and began his EU enlargement career as desk officer for Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro, from 2001-2004. He has been described by interlocutors as the “toughest” member of the cabinet in negotiations with Macedonia.

In an early March Bild interview, President Ivanov criticized the EU’s perceived failure to cooperate on migration security. Interestingly, the strong reaction from Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert focused mostly on the president’s claim that the state had received no financial support from the EU for migration security. On March 13, Ivanov responded to an official statement from the Enlargement Commission by asking rhetorically that if Macedonia had indeed been given 52 million euros, there was no record of it in the state budget. Dnevnik tried to get an official reply from the Enlargement Commission, but it was somewhat vague.

The misunderstanding derives from differences between Macedonian law and EU procedure. The Law on Crisis Situations (in place since August) foresees funding from ministries, state institutions and local government. Therefore, any EU money should go to these bodies. However, the EU works differently, and has contracted the International Organization for Migration; it gives money to this group and other international organizations like UNHCR. Until now, at least, these donations have been much more for humanitarian aid than security. But with the Balkan corridor now closed, and now Eidomeni too, there is less need for humanitarian aid, since there are no migrants (except those who are caught and returned to Greece). Security cooperation is rather of primary importance.

EU officials seem genuinely confused by this legal distinction. “Why should it matter whether the money goes in the state budget?” said the senior EU Delegation member quoted above. “We are donating to support the border management.” Still, it appears that the EU has been influenced, however slowly, by the president’s views, as some of the donations specified in Appendix 2 below are more security-oriented. However, they are arriving far later than they should have, due to the unreported blockage of requests we alluded to above.

In general, questions of financial support for Macedonian migration capacities have long been controversial: last year, Balkanalysis.com revealed a secret plan that the UNHCR was considering, to turn the country into a migrant dump for up to 30,000 persons in camps. Now that would be the kind of thing Brussels would love to subsidize- after all, the EU could keep sweeping a problem it could not solve under the Balkan rug. But Macedonia refused to take the bait, angering Brussels and Berlin. “Basically, the internationals thought the Macedonians were stupid or desperate enough to take the support,” says one British development official aware of the situation. “So when they kept refusing, they became more and more angry, though since it wasn’t ever officially an offer they couldn’t factually blame [the Macedonians].”

It is necessary to remember this context to understand just how deep and long-lasting the antagonisms are.

The European Reaction: Attack from Afar…

An aggressive, obstinate and dysfunctional Germany, combined with an indifferent EU, does not augur well for Macedonian national security. The enormous external pressure over the political crisis continues to mount just as the controversial migration deal between Turkey and the EU may be unraveling. Even the most hopeful of prognoses indicates a long and tense period of subterfuge, recrimination and asymmetric war in the months ahead. And that is only between allies- never mind open enemies.

Events that we will discuss at a later date have led to a situation in which the EU, under German leadership, is using migration to exert political pressure, and even violent destabilization, in Macedonia. Most of this does not reach the level of surface politics, but one case did- the release on 11 May of a Council of Europe report harshly critical of Macedonian border security methods. The rhetoric in it directly expressed the Greek (and now radicalized German) agenda, but is partly informed by tremendous anger in Brussels over an event that did not go as planned.

Interestingly, the report was the product of a 4 March border visit by the Council’s special representative on migration and refugees, Tomas Bocek. That was the same time the EU had just announced a 700mn euro emergency fund for Greek migration efforts, and a few days before President Ivanov’s comments for Bild.

In the report, Bocek said he was concerned about “allegations of maltreatment by police stationed along the Macedonian border,” and even offered to train border guards, to ensure that “the border with Greece be watched over in accordance with the country’s obligations as well as in relation to human rights.” This angered Macedonian officials, who have constantly reinforced their caution and care in dealing with even violent migrants. The fact that all police actions are filmed also means that Mr Bocek will have an interesting time proving his opinions.

The year’s second major attack on the border from Eidomeni occurred on April 10. The next day Greece condemned Macedonian use of tear gas. Greece’s opportunistic prime minister would highlight the apparent moral difference between his migrant policy and Macedonia’s, when five days later he made his ‘Tsipras Dove of Peace’ photo-op with the Pope on Lesvos. At the same time, aggressively fundraising NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontiers seized on the Eidomeni incident; yet they did not question the paramilitary tactics of migrants or the morality of using children as human shields before the fence (and waiting cameras).

As in the March attack, the migrant surge was caused by mysteriously placed disinformation that the border was opening. Referring to the assault, AFP reported that “Macedonia has used tear gas and stun grenades to push back migrants at the Greek border to the south and has been accused by NGOs of using rubber bullets, though the government denies this charge.”

Dedicated readers of Balkanalysis.com should keep these dates, events and allegations in mind, as they are much more important than they might at first seem.

…While Looking Interested on the Ground

To balance the unpleasantness of rebuke from a distance (the COE report), the EU sought to look more positive on the ground. Thus after the report, on May 12, Head of Delegation Aivo Orav and several EU ambassadors visited the Transit Centre for Migrants in Gevgelija- among “several EU-funded projects, in order to get closely acquainted with part of the assistance that the European Union is providing to the country through the IPA funds,” according to a press release.

This kind of PR stunt actually had little to do with the border or migration, however. Rather, it reflected two things: one, concern over the EU’s tanking popularity in the country, due to its constant political interference and personnel behavior; and two, a demonstration of the Delegation’s own long-simmering anger. “The government has taken credit for some infrastructure projects that actually got EU funds,” one international aid consultant in Skopje tells Balkanalysis.com. “This trip was the EU’s way of making a statement about money, and migration border issues only in context of the general aid package.”

And that was it. While the gathered ambassadors made no statement of support for the army and police, and certainly no criticism of chronic non-cooperation from the EU country on the other side of the border, one ambassador did think it would be quite clever to bring up the political crisis.

Not that there was anything more relevant to talk about, all things considered. On 17 May, Alfa TV cited police sources who indicate organized human trafficking from Greece has risen since the closure of the Balkan Route. All told, “from last November through today, the Republic of Macedonia has blocked the entrance of 31,398 illegal migrants from entering our territory.”

Meanwhile in Istanbul, Angela Merkel was questioning “the independence of Turkey’s judiciary and suggested a tentative July 1 target date for Turks to travel visa-free to the European Union probably won’t be met, saying the government has to meet the EU’s terms in the refugee accord first.” In the chancellor’s words, “open questions remain.” The same goes for the future of migration and security cooperation in the Balkans.

Appendix 1: Official Data from Macedonian MOD on Defensive Measures, Costs and Damages Due to the Migration Crisis (reproduced as received electronically by Balkanalysis.com on May 16, 2016)

Starting last year, the Republic of Macedonia and other countries along the so-called “Balkan Route” were and still are under increased pressure from migrants whose aim is to transit towards the countries in the European Union. The Ministry of Defence in coordination and support of other institutions in the Republic of Macedonia is taking measures to address this situation and maintain peace and security, particularly on the southern border with Greece, i.e. the “Schengen area”.

The Government of the Republic of Macedonia, based on the conclusions of the Crisis Management Center dated 19.8.2016, adopted a decision declaring the crisis situation on the southern and northern borders. Based on this decision the President of the Republic of Macedonia and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Gjorge Ivanov, issued an order on 21.08.2015 to engage the Army of the Republic of Macedonia (ARM) in enhancing and providing continuous security of the southern and northern borders in support of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Border Police. After the expiration of the 30 days from the declaration of a crisis situation, on the proposal of the Government, the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia extended the crisis situation first to 15 June 2016, followed by an amendment to extend the crisis situation by the end of this year.

In order to prevent illegal crossing of the state border and direct people to the registration checkpoints, so as to avoid oversights due to inadequate registration that might lead to adverse security consequences, from the very beginning of engagement, the members of the ARM take preventive measures and necessary technical and tactical measures such as surveillance, reconnaissance and patrolling in the area of responsibility of the border.

In the past period, the direct costs for securing the border (accommodation, food, fuel, etc.) have reached more than 7 million [euros].

In terms of monthly expenses, we are not able at present to deliver you a detailed response on the grounds that the monthly costs are not fixed, and they mostly depend on the number of ARM members engaged on the southern border.

Regarding the second and third questions, we would like to point out that in performing tasks for preventing illegal crossings, thus far, the ARM has suffered damage to the vehicles and materiel, and injuries to its personnel, especially in the attempts of mass and violent crossing of the state border, such as the most characteristic developments and events of 28.11.2015 and 11.04.2016.

So far the Army has suffered the following damages:

  1. a) Damaged vehicles as a result of direct attacks by illegal migrants:

– Several Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) “Hermelin” (broken headlights, mirrors, cracked windows) and motor vehicles “Humvee” (broken headlights, mirrors, windows).

– Extensive damage to protective equipment from the direct attacks by migrants (helmets, shields).

  1. b) Damage and defects of motor vehicles and engineering machines from the everyday performance of the given tasks:

– Several APCs and several all-terrain vehicles (Iveco, Humvee) and engineering machines and vehicles.

The financial implications for the re-commissioning of damaged materiel and equipment amount to tens of thousands of Euros to be allocated from the budget of the MOD and the ARM.

So far in exercising their duties for preventing illegal crossings in the direct attacks by migrants on the above dates (mostly by throwing stones) 12 members of the ARM were injured (limbs injuries, fractures and scratches, as well as head injuries).

Dozens of ARM members have suffered injuries while providing regular state border security, patrols and traps, fortunately the injuries were not serious and required prolonged absence from the unit.

Despite this, the ARM members continue to act in the most correct and humane manner towards to migrants, which can be seen in the performance of the activities and construction of facilities by the ARM members, such as: ballast roads to the shelter, ballast platform at the camp, water channel, constructed protective fences around the detention camps, mounted tents and containers for accommodation of the migrants, cleaning of the riverbed near the reception center in Gevgelija. Moreover, the humane treatment was best demonstrated with the rescue of four migrants from the floodwaters of Suva Reka on 14.03.2016.

 

Appendix 2: Official Data from European Union Delegation in Skopje (reproduced as received electronically by Balkanalysis.com on May 16, 2016)

Special Measure 1

This measure aims to support the relevant government offices on national and local level. The assistance is supposed to cover not only short-term needs but also a long-term nature needs such as terrain vehicles for border police, waste management vehicles for the municipalities, ambulance vehicles, and specialized medical equipment for the hospital in Gevgelija.

Disbursed – €600,000

In March 2016, the EU disbursed 0,6 MEUR to support in particular Crisis Management Center (2 minivans, that can serve also for transportation of vulnerable migrants and government staff), Gevgelija General hospital (with 2 ambulance vehicles for health care provision), waste management public companies in the municipalities of Kumanovo and Gevgelija (with 2 buldozers for waste management and garbage collection).

In the pipeline:

The EU is to shortly procure and deliver in 2016 terrain vehicles for the amount of 2,4 MEUR for the Border Police, Crisis Management Centre,  Gevgelija General hospital and waste management public companies in the municipalities of Kumanovo and Gevgelija. This support should help central government and local authorities to deal with migration flow and to mitigate its negative impact on the local population.

Although not yet fully implemented, Special Measure I is even more relevant nowadays.

Terrain vehicles for MoI

Tender dossier for terrain vehicles is to be re-launched mid-May 2016 – negotiated procedure

It is linked with the increased irregular migration including smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings.

Namely, the terrain vehicles will be used:

  • For rapid mobilization of the border police in managing the actual situations related to the migrant crisis.
  • For intensive border surveillance of the state border by the border police, greater mobility on the field for detection of criminal structures or individuals trying to manipulate and misuse migrants.
  • Detecting groups of migrants trying to pass the state border via the regular movement routes, as well outside them.
  • Transport of migrants who have been found in weak condition on the field and have need of medical assistance on the spot to specific centres competent for providing medical assistance (health institutions, Red Cross centres).

Medical Equipment:

Tender dossier for medical equipment is to be re-launched end of May 2016

General Hospital Gevgelija continued to provide on time medical care to the migrants, established   separate “examination foster clinic with daily care”, equipped with basic furniture, medical equipment and disposables. The migrant part and daily clinic,   so the migrants wouldn’t have to wait for the health services with other patients and could receive the health services promptly with separate entrance, is separate from the outside. The reconstruction of the roof of the hospital is completed as well as specific medical equipment delivered (including 2 equipped ambulance vehicles) within the frame of our CBC project, and partial reconstruction provided by the Council of Europe Bank is to be completed very soon. Once the reconstruction is completed our procurement of the complex medical equipment will be completed, too.

Waste management vehicles

Tender dossier for waste management vehicle sent to the potential bidders – negotiated procedure, deadline for submission of the offers is 25 May 2016

Support to municipalities of Gevgelija and Kumanovo with new waste management vehicles will enhance their capacity to extend municipal waste and water collection in transit centres with stranded migrants and mitigate impact of migrants’ crisis to the local context and prevent negative sentiment vis-a-vis migrants.

Special measure II

 EU disbursed €5,900,625.00

This Measure aims to ensure effective management of the south border, to prevent smuggling and trafficking of migrants and to ensure an efficient identification and registration process of migrants at the border.

It is very much linked with the SM 1 as well as with the Governmental decision from late November 2015, to request from several EU Member States to deploy border guards (“guest officers”) to the country’s southern border with Greece and to strengthen the country’s border management activities with respect to border surveillance and registration activities.

Nevertheless, the management of a large and complex multinational team in a sensitive political context currently is a major challenge.

Therefore, after the second scoping mission, in February this year a contract was signed with IOM in amount of 9 million. With these funds:

  • the EU will cover the government’s running costs (food, accommodation, fuel) of “guest officers” (from several Member States) and, where justified, for the domestic border police officers;
  • then will provide training and advise to the Ministry of Interior; and
  • will buy specialized border surveillance equipment for the border police.

 

Special Measure III

Following several meetings held with relevant institutions Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy concept note was submitted by the Government.

General comment to the CN: More comprehensive and up to date justification for the activities proposed under the action document is needed. The analysis of the situation and the potential scenario are out of date and not really reflecting on the current state of play and what the situation could be like in the coming months.

The EUD in Serbia is nominated to lead the negotiation process with IOM responsible, while the HQ will be the Contracting Authority.

 

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