January 24, 2016 / 2:06 PM / 2 years ago

Czech president says planned EU border force too small

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The European Union’s planned border patrol will be too small and member states should contribute soldiers to build up a force to protect the bloc’s external frontier, Czech President Milos Zeman said on Sunday.

Czech President Milos Zeman speaks during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, in this September 29, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The EU has plans to create a European Border and Coast Guard with 1,500 personnel as part of measures to tackle its migration crisis, with leaders expected to agree details at a summit in June.

More than a million people arrived in Europe last year, mostly fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and north Africa, and the numbers show little sign of falling.

“I fully support the idea of a European border guard,” Zeman said in an interview with Prime television channel on Sunday.

“But it seems to me to be comical if it has 1,500 members. If every single EU country sent 500 people to this, then you have 14,000 soldiers.”

Zeman said there were 20 times more smugglers than planned border personnel. He also said setting up the new force will take six months and that half a million refugees could reach the EU by the time it was in place.

Germany has been by far the top destination for asylum seekers.

The influx of migrants to central European countries has been low. Countries in the region have often taken a tough stance on the issue and stressed beefing up EU border protection while opposing a quota system for asylum seekers agreed by EU member states last year.

European Council President Donald Tusk warned last week that the EU had “no more than two months” to tackle the migration crisis engulfing the 28-nation bloc, or face the collapse of its passport-free Schengen zone.

Slovakia pushed for the EU to speed up the reinforcement of external border controls earlier this month, with Prime Minister Robert Fico saying the summit should be brought forward.

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said then that he supported any action leading to a faster creation of a border guard.

Zeman has few policymaking powers as head of state and was criticized last year by United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein for making “Islamophobic” statements.

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Andrew Bolton

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