BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany's interior minister expects the EU executive to propose new rules for protecting the bloc's frontiers that would mean European border guards stepping in when a national government failed to defend them.
Thomas de Maiziere spoke as he arrived on Friday for an EU meeting in Brussels where ministers will discuss how to safeguard their Schengen system of open borders inside the EU and Greece's difficulties in controlling unprecedented flows of people arriving via Turkey and streaming north into Europe.
Calling for the reinforcement of the EU's Frontex border agency, whose help Greece called for on Thursday after coming under intense pressure from other EU states, de Maiziere said he expected an enhanced role for Frontex in proposals the European Commission is due to make on borders on Dec. 15.
"The Commission should put forward a proposal ... which has the goal of when a national state is not effectively fulfilling its duty of defending the external border, then that can be taken over by Frontex," he told reporters.
EU states' sovereign responsibility for their section of the external border of the Schengen zone is protected in the Union's treaties.
But the failure of Greece's overburdened authorities to control migrant flows that have then triggered other states to reimpose controls on internal Schengen frontiers has driven calls for a more collective approach on the external frontier.
Following diplomatic threats that it risked being shunned from the Schengen zone if it failed to accept EU help in registering and controlling migrants, Greece finally activated EU support mechanisms late on Thursday.
De Maiziere noted a Franco-German push for Frontex, whose role is largely to coordinate national border agencies, to be complemented by a more ambitious European border and coast guard system. He did not say whether new proposals would strengthen the EU's ability to intervene with a reluctant member state.
A Commission spokeswoman said the EU executive would make its proposal on Dec. 15 for a European Border and Coast Guard.
German officials noted that the existing Schengen Borders Code provides for recommendations to member states that they request help from the EU "in the case of serious deficiencies relating to external border control".
Other ministers and the Commission welcomed Greece's decision to accept more help from Frontex.
Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said: "Greece is finally taking responsibility for guarding the external European border. I have for months been demanding that Greece must recognize this responsibility and be ready to accept European help. This is an important step in the right direction."
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Tom Heneghan)