How quickly is Europe approaching the breaking point? Concern is increasing across the continent about the refugee crisis currently facing many nations and the EU as a whole. If the flow of migrants into Europe is not scaled back soon, the EU could be faced with a scenario where border-free travel, which is guaranteed under the Schengen agreement, could end. The principle that Schengen is built around has been a foundation of the EU since its founding. The influx of refugees seeking to escape the horrors of the wars currently raging in the Middle East is taxing Europe and has many around the continent questioning the durability of border-free internal travel when the external borders of the EU are not secure. And as Schengen goes, so could the entire EU.
On Monday, EU interior ministers will be meeting in Amsterdam to discuss the possibility of suspending Schengen rules for a period of two years. Reinstating national border controls could help alleviate the burden that the crisis has placed on certain nations. Some European states have temporarily suspended Schengen in order to contend with the crisis better. On Saturday, Austria joined Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in restoring national border control measures. These four nations, along with Germany, are pushing to keep border controls in place for an extended period of time. Germany introduced similar measures on its border with Austria in September, but they are scheduled to expire in May.
A sizeable fraction of the continent’s frustration with the crisis is being aimed at Greece. Many EU politicians blame Greece for not effectively controlling the EU’s external border with Turkey. Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner has even threatened to temporarily suspend Greece’s membership in the Schengen zone if the country does not improve its control of the border. Nearly 37,000 refugees have arrived in Europe since 1 January. The overwhelming majority of these have arrived in Europe by way of the Eastern Mediterranean route and crossing from Turkey into Greece.
The EU’s response to the refugee crisis has not been either effective or unified. Monday in Amsterdam, interior ministers will either begin to take action and address the matter of the internal border issues, or, through inaction will pave the way for the possible unraveling of Schengen, as well as other pillars of the European Union.