‘Running Out of Time’, EU Puts Greece, Schengen on Notice

Gabriela Baczynska and Alastair MacDonald, Reuters, January 25, 2016

The European Union edged closer on Monday to accepting that its Schengen open-borders area may be suspended for up to two years if it fails in the next few weeks to curb the influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

Shorter-term dispensations for border controls end in May. EU migration ministers meeting in Amsterdam decided they may be extended for two years–an unprecedented extension–because the migrant crisis probably will not be brought under control by then, according to the Dutch migration minister, who chaired the meeting.

Some ministers made clear such a–theoretically temporary–move would cut off Greece, where more than 40,000 people have arrived by sea from Turkey this year, despite a deal with Ankara two months ago to hold back an exodus of Syrian refugees. {snip}

Greek officials noted that closing routes northward, even if physically possible, would not solve the problem. But electoral pressure on governments, including in the EU’s leading power Germany, to stem the flow and resist efforts to spread asylum seekers across the bloc are making free-travel rules untenable.

“We are running out of time,” said EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. He urged states to implement agreed measures for managing movements of migrants across the continent–or else face the collapse of the 30-year-old Schengen zone.

But the Dutch minister, Klaas Dijkhoff, said time has effectively already run out to preserve the passport-free regime. The system has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to make chaotic treks from Greece and Italy to Germany and Sweden over the past year.

“The ‘or else’ is already happening,” he said. “A year ago, we all warned that if we don’t come up with a solution, then Schengen will be under pressure. It already is.”

{snip}

“Everyone understands that the Schengen zone is on the brink,” said Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, whose government has warned it will limit entry to migrants.

“If we cannot protect the external EU border, the Greek-Turkish border, then the Schengen external border will move toward central Europe . . . Greece must . . . accept help.”

{snip}

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