The European Commission has formally asked Greece to begin an investigation into a New York Times report based on exclusive footage showing the country’s Coast Guard abandoning migrants in the Aegean Sea last month, a top official said on Monday.
“My services have sent a formal request to Greek authorities that this incident be fully and independently investigated,” the European commissioner for migration, Ylva Johansson, said on Twitter. “The European Commission stands ready to take formal steps, as appropriate,” she added.
The Times’s findings, published on Friday, point to a slew of Greek, European Union and international law violations, but the Greek authorities have so far declined to comment on the incident in the video. The coast guard vessel shown in the footage was paid mostly by European Union funds, a fact that could also open up the country to investigations by E.U. authorities.
The Times verified the footage, taken on the Greek island of Lesbos on April 11, using a range of tools including metadata analysis and geolocation. Times reporters also tracked down the migrants involved in the incident, and interviewed them at a detention facility in coastal Turkey last month.
Greece’s conservative prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, recently defended his migration policies as “tough but fair.” He told The Times in a brief interview last week, just ahead of parliamentary elections, that his approach had won his government “reasonable good will” with the European Union.
Indeed, the bloc, wary of taking in more asylum seekers, relies on Greece and a handful of other coastal nations to strictly guard its external borders. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president in 2020 called Greece’s border enforcement Europe’s “shield.”
Greek voters also appear to be largely unmoved by the alleged violations, and on Sunday put Mr. Mitsotakis and his party on track for a decisive victory over the opposition, although a second round of elections will be necessary to form a government.
Pressed by reporters in Brussels on Monday, representatives for the European Commission said that the E.U.’s executive body would rely on the Greek authorities themselves to investigate and verify the Times findings before they could take action.
“This is for the institutions in Greece to investigate,” said Anitta Hipper, the commission spokeswoman for migration policy.
The European Commission has the power to open a so-called “infringement procedure” against Greece, the formal process under which the E.U. punishes members that violate its rules. The commission opens such proceedings against member states on a range of issues, including migration, and it holds the power to freeze E.U. funding if the member state does not comply.