The European Union said it struck a deal on Wednesday (18 July) with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to deploy border guards to the non-EU Balkan state to help cope with any migrant surges. Serbia and Bosnia are expected to follow.
The EU has bolstered the 28-nation bloc’s external borders, including through cooperation with third countries, since the migration crisis peaked in 2015.
In 2016 FYROM embarked on an Austria-led initiative, outside the EU framework, aimed at sealing Greece and stopping refugees from moving further west. At that time, Greece blasted the move as “one-sided and not at all friendly”.
Cooperation is easier since FYROM reached an agreement with EU member Greece last month to rename the country the “Republic of North Macedonia” in a bid to resolve a dispute that has poisoned relations between the two countries since 1991.
The new name must still be approved in a referendum later this year.
EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and FYROM’s interior minister Oliver Spasovski initialed the deal for deploying European guards to landlocked FYROM and conducting joint operations.
“This agreement will allow the European Border and Coast Guard Agency to fully exercise its potential, reacting swiftly to migratory challenges and protecting our common borders,” Avramopoulos said in a statement.
The deal will be signed formally at a later date once it clears legal hurdles and is endorsed by the European Parliament, said the commission, the EU’s executive arm.
FYROM lies north of EU member Greece, west of EU member Bulgaria, and east of non-EU member Albania, which signed a cooperation deal with the bloc in February.
Negotiations for similar deals are ongoing with non-EU Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
EU border and coastguards are due to increase to 1,300 personnel at the end of the year from 300 personnel in 2014.
The Commission has proposed expanding numbers further to 10,000 staff.
The EU has slashed the number of asylum-seekers and migrants entering the bloc by sealing cooperation deals with transit countries Turkey and Libya.