Failure to protect the EU's external borders poses an existential threat to its Schengen free travel area, according to Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė.
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An agreement with Turkey on stemming the inflow of migrants to Europe is a step in the right direction, although one that is long overdue, Grybauskaitė said on Monday after arriving in Brussels for an EU-Turkey meeting.

European leaders are meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to discuss a plan under which Turkey committed to help reducing migrant flows to Europe. According to the Lithuanian president, the implementation of the action plan has been slow so far. The EU has allocated €3 billion for the implementation of the action plan and for refugee camps in Turkey’s territory. However, more than 120 thousand people have already come to Europe from Turkey since the beginning of the year.

"I believe agreements are possible. They are starting to come into force, like NATO ships patrol which needed Turkey's consent. We are moving forward, but [...] we are late. Refugees are moving faster than we are making decision. It’s not a very good sign, and we are practically repeating the same mistakes," Grybauskaitė told journalists ahead of European leaders' meeting with the Turkish prime minister.

In her words, the EU's goal is to help Turkey financially and also provide humanitarian aid.

"There are also other important political things they [Turkey] want, especially regarding EU integration. We have to find a common language with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees," Grybauskaitė underlined.

Assisting refugees in the territory of Turkey would cost less, she said.

The extraordinary European Council meeting will focus on ways to stem migrant flows to Europe in cooperation with Turkey and preserve the functioning of the Schengen area.

"As long as there is no proper protection of external borders, Schengen zone is hanging by a thread," Grybauskaitė warned.

She said that the decision of some EU countries to reintroduce temporary border controls was justified.

"Temporary reintroduction of checks was probably inevitable and we cannot judge these countries, since Europe unfortunately failed to protect its external borders.

"We must preserve it [free travel] as one of the core EU values, but seeing how we have failed to secure our external borders, some countries erected internal borders within Schengen. It is a bad thing, but there is no other option, so Schengen rules have been temporarily suspended. We will try to ensure the protection of external border so we don't need to compromise on Schengen," Grybasukaitė said.

BNS
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