EU strains to cope with Middle East exodus

The future of the passport-free Schengen zone has been cast into doubt as the European Union struggles to get to grips with the migrant crisis.


Some 2,000 migrants arrive in Greece every day

The future of the Schengen zone of passport-free travel is "in serious doubt" as European Union countries seek permission to prolong border controls for up to two years amid the immigration crisis, says Jacopo Barigazzi in Politico. So far, six countries in the 26-country Schengen area have reintroduced border controls: France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Austria.

The last three accepted around 90% of last year's one-million-plus arrivals. If Germany suspends Schengen for two years, it "would set the tone for the whole EU", says The Independent. And as one official told The Times, "if border controls were allowed to remain for two years, it is difficult to see that they would ever be removed".

The countries "bearing the brunt" of new arrivals have "rounded on Athens", with Austria warning that Greece could be kicked out of the Schengen area, sayIan Traynor and Helena Smith inThe Guardian. Some 2,000 migrants arrive in Greece each day: 43,000 by sea this month alone. Last week, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sent officials to Greece's border with Macedonia to assess the feasibility of closing it to migrants, says The Times. Macedonia, a non-EU country, is the only one through which refugees can reach northern Europe from Greece.

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Such a solution is extreme, but closing the border and mobilising resources from across Europe to process all refugees may be the best option. Turkey has proved incapable of containing the exodus, and Juncker's "pet scheme" to relocate 160,000 refugees from "hot spots" in Greece and Italy has relocated "precisely 331".

But Athens "objects violently" to a plan that would, it says, turn Greece into a "graveyard of souls". With a "crippled economy and 25% unemployment", Athens will argue that it is "in no position to pay for the EU's mistakes". The idea that Greece has failed to control its borders ignores reality, addsThe Independent. Unless Greece blocks off boats and leaves passengers to drown, it has no option but to accept refugees.

Trying to find a common European migration policy is as doomed as a "one-size-fits-all monetary policy", says Roger Bootle in The Daily Telegraph. EU member states' demographics are very different. Our population is set to rise substantially; in Germany, Spain and Italy, populations are shrinking. The fact that Schengen is falling apart is "not the real issue".

Once immigrants have EU passports, they can go anywhere in the union. Why should the interests of other EU members "coincide neatly with ours"? Today's migration crisis isn't about the allocation of resources, it's about the "willingness of people, cultures and institutions" to absorb large number of people, "often with very different values, beliefs and traditions".

The EU is "impotent", agrees Gerald Warner on "What kind of a union is it that cannot, or will not, defend its borders, that wrings its hands while a new migrant enters Europe every 30 seconds?" In the "accelerating climate of EU disintegration the British referendum is almost academic". The EU is heading for "the dustbin of history".

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.