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.”
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. In the meantime, Macedonia is rapidly being transformed into a “buffer state” against refugees. 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.
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. 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.