The European Union formally called on Greece on Friday to fix serious holes in its part of the Schengen Area frontier, a move heralding longer-term suspensions of open border rules across Europe due to the refugee crisis.
A report adopted 10 days earlier by the European Commission, the EU executive, found Greece was failing to properly register and fingerprint refugees during inspections at the Turkish land border and several islands in the Aegean Sea last November.
"It is of utmost importance that Greece addresses the issues identified in the report adopted by the Commission as a matter of priority and urgency," EU ministers said in the recommendation that two EU sources said was adopted Friday.
An EU source said the vote in an EU ministerial council was passed despite opposition from Athens. It gives Greece three months to implement 50 recommendations to tighten border checks.
As that appears impracticable, it could trigger an unprecedented activation of rules allowing member states to reimpose controls on internal Schengen frontiers for up to two years.
EU officials and diplomats say that the move is not intended to isolate or stigmatise Greece but rather to ensure that border controls elsewhere in Europe, including between Germany and Austria, can remain in place without breaking the law once derogations based on other parts of the Schengen code expire.
Germany, along with other member states introduced such border controls late last year extended the measures until May on Thursday, the current limit under Schengen provisions.
The Schengen area allows passport-free travel through 26 countries, most EU member states, and is put forward as one of the major European achievements on unity.
However, according to EU documents, seen and cited by the Associated Press(AP), European Union countries are poised to restrict passport-free travel by invoking an emergency rule to impose controls at several borders for two more years because of the refugee crisis.
Schengen member countries are allowed to unilaterally put up border controls for a maximum of six months, but that time limit can be extended for up to two years if a member is found to be failing to protect its borders.
The documents show that the EU policy makers are preparing to make unprecedented use of an emergency provision by declaring that Greece is failing to sufficiently protect it border.
Some 2,000 people are still arriving daily on Greek islands in smugglers' boats from Turkey, most of them in hope of reaching countries like Germany and Sweden fore a better future.
A European official showed the documents to the AP on condition of anonymity because the documents are confidential. Greek government officials declined to comment on the content of documents not made public.