The Internal and External Ring

BERLIN |

BERLIN (Own report) - Within the EU, the mounting pressure to ward off refugees, is intensifying the debate about a possible dismantling of the Schengen system. It is yet unclear, whether Berlin can reach its objective of stopping refugees at the external borders of Greece to be immediately deported to Turkey. Alternately, attempts are being made to turn Macedonia into a buffer state against refugees, while threatening Greece's exclusion from the Schengen system. The establishment of a "Mini-Schengen" is being considered as an emergency solution. Even while officially continuing to reject such a "Mini-Schengen," the German government is already involved in its planning, which the Netherlands is officially directing. Any option beyond effectively sealing off Greece's external borders, i.e. abandoning part of the Schengen-system, would be a first retreat - with unforeseeable consequences. According to observers, this could seriously weaken the EU.

Reinstating the Iron Curtain

Numerous measures, being implemented at national levels to ward off refugees, are steadily undermining the Schengen system. Entry controls are being intensified in several countries at internal borders within the Schengen zone. Under the Schengen Agreement, such controls are only allowed in exceptional cases and must be approved by the EU Commission. Presently, the EU Commission is studying the possibility of a two year prolongation of permission to carry out controls at Germany's borders. This control, ending in Mai, was originally limited to six months. The rejection of refugees at Germany's borders has risen from 400, in October, to 700, in November, and to approximately 2,200, in December. During the first half of January, up to 2000 had already been refused. New border installations are being erected in countries southeast of Germany, at borders between Austria and Slovenia, Slovenia and Croatia, Hungary and Croatia as well as at some Schengen external borders, which have already been fortified (Hungary-Serbia, Bulgaria-Turkey, Greece-Turkey). There is already talk of "reinstating the Iron Curtain."[1]

Deportation by Ferry

Efforts to salvage the Schengen Agreement by reinstalling free movement within its zone are currently focusing on three options for warding off refugees. Stopping refugees at Greece's external borders is considered the optimal option. Berlin and Brussels are therefore exerting massive pressure on Athens to effectively seal its borders to Turkey. Observers point out that this is virtually impossible even with naval surveillance of the area between the Greek islands and the Turkish coast. If refugees destroy the boats used for their escape, the Greek coast guard is obliged to save them and bring them ashore, where they can then apply for asylum.[2] The EU is therefore dependant on Turkey's willingness to prevent refugees from leaving to the EU. Alternatively - or in addition - Brussels is planning to deport refugees to Turkey by ferry from the Greek islands, a plan now being elaborated with Berlin's participation.[3] However, this option has a drawback: the EU will be dependant upon Ankara's compliance and therefore vulnerable to political pressure of this recalcitrant state.[4]

Buffer State Macedonia

Upgrading the Greek/Macedonian border, as a fortress barrier against refugees, is currently option number two. The November 19 closure of Macedonia's border to refugees, unable to prove that they come from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, is considered an initial test. Since then, numerous refugees have been stranded at the Macedonian border. Macedonia's Foreign Minister has confirmed that, "on the political level," this was done on the initiative of Germany and Austria.[5] In the meantime, Macedonia is rapidly being transformed into a "buffer state" against refugees.[6] Hungary supports these efforts, and last December, supplied Macedonia 10,000 rolls of NATO razor wire, with concrete fence posts and clamps to fortify the border installations. At the beginning of the year, it also deployed 30 riot police at the Greek/Macedonian border to support the Macedonian police force. The Czech Republic and Slovakia want to join these efforts. In addition, measures to seal off the Bulgarian/Greek border are in consideration.[7]

Mini Schengen

Whereas this option is considered unfavorable, in comparison to the option, which would block the refugees in Turkey, because it would, more or less, abandon Greece and could easily lead to serious humanitarian problems for this impoverished EU member country, option number three, is also not seen as an optimal solution. This option revolves around forming a "mini Schengen." The plan being prepared in the Netherlands [8], since some time, stipulates that Germany, Austria, Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands - with the eventual inclusion of Denmark and Sweden - should form a tight-knit association, which de facto would replace the previous Schengen zone. Berlin is involved in the elaboration of this plan. However, this plan for a "mini Schengen" is being strongly opposed by other EU members, such as France, Italy and Poland. These governments fear their exclusion from the European "core" and therefore, their formal decline into a bush league.[9]

Border Interventions

Temporary solutions within the three options are conceivable and are being considered. From Vienna, it was reported, for example, that a joint Austrian-Slovenian working group is meeting to examine possibilities for joint controls at the Schengen Zone's exterior borders. In substance, this is probably focusing on the Slovenian-Croat border. German officials are also involved in this working group's elaborations.[10] German officials intervening at foreign borders, to shield Germany from the influx of refugees, is nothing new. Last fall, the German Ministry of the Interior confirmed that, already at the time, 74 German police officers and customs officials were in operation in Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia. On the other hand, Brussels is busy, at the moment, trying to extort from the EU members the right for Frontex to intervene at the EU's external borders - even without the consent of the respective nations.[11]

Scenarios

Speaking of the debate around Schengen, negotiating circles in the Netherlands explain "scenarios, involving whether the internal ring must be reinforced, if the external ring proves inadequately protected, are constantly being played out."[12] In Germany, interested circles are urging that a decision soon be taken - and, if possible, in favor of maintaining the Schengen system. german-foreign-policy.com will soon report.

[1] Christian Geinitz: Die Rückkehr des Eisernen Vorhangs. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 25.01.2016.
[2] Michael Martens: Wiener Mythen und Athener Schmäh. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 27.01.2016.
[3] Schweden will 80.000 Asylbewerber abschieben. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 29.01.2016.
[4] See Flüchtlinge als Verhandlungsmasse.
[5] "Wirtschaftsmigranten dürfen nicht einreisen". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 02.12.2015. S. dazu Die Grenzen der EU.
[6], [7] Keno Verseck: Frontstaat gegen die Flüchtlinge. www.spiegel.de 23.01.2016.
[8] See The Foundation is Crumbling.
[9] Zu Kerneuropa siehe auch: Hans-Rüdiger Minow: Zwei Wege - Eine Katastrophe. Flugschrift No. 1. Aachen 2016. Hier bestellen.
[10] Cathrin Kahlweit: Deutschland, Österreich und Slowenien prüfen gemeinsame Grenzkontrollen. www.sueddeutsche.de 17.01.2016.
[11] See Die Grenzen der EU.
[12] Christopher Ziedler: Kommt jetzt ein Mini-Schengen? www.tagesspiegel.de 26.01.2016.