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EU agrees new border force to tackle migrant crisis

BRUSSELS (AFP) -- The European Union has reached agreement to set up a new border and coastguard force that could intervene in front-line countries like Greece and Italy to curb the influx of migrants.

Negotiators for the 28 EU member states and the European Parliament said Wednesday they had endorsed a proposal from the European Commission, the bloc's executive, to set up the force by the summer.

The parliament is expected to vote on the issue in a key committee next week, and if it clears that hurdle, to act on it in a full session in the French city of Strasbourg next month.

"The agreement on the creation of a European Border and Coast Guard shows that Europe is able to act swiftly and resolutely to deal with common challenges," said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the force's main sponsor.

In December, EU leaders set a June 30 deadline for agreement on the new force, a key part of the bloc's strategy for tackling the flow of the migrants along with a deal with Turkey sealed in March.

Brussels aims to have the force start operations in September and be fully operational by November, under a roadmap to restore the passport-free Schengen Zone after the travails of the migration crisis.

Several countries have reintroduced border controls that were eliminated years ago as part of Schengen as the EU deals with a record flow of more than one million migrants and refugees since the start of 2015.

Under the deal, member states would still manage their borders on a daily basis but could call on emergency support from a pool of at least 1,500 border guards.

The new force represents an expansion of the size and tasks of the existing Frontex border agency, based in Warsaw.

For example, it will have a "greater role" in returning people deemed economic migrants to their countries of origin, the parliament said.

Artis Pabriks, parliament's lead negotiator on the issue, said the force "will ensure that the EU external borders are safer and better managed.

"This is not a silver bullet that can solve the migration crisis that the EU is facing today or fully restore trust in the Schengen area, but it is very much needed first step," he added.


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