Migration crisis update: Greece could probably say goodbye to Schengen really soon

Dimitris Avramopoulos European Commission

Here the EU Commissioner responsible for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship is trying to find the solution to the migration problem while drinking a glass of expensive champagne. Let’s just hope he makes it! The photo was taken during the participation of Commissioner Avramopoulos at the European Dialogue for Skills and Migration that took place yesterday in Brussels. (EC Audiovisual Services, 28/01/2016)

It was two days ago when the European Commission’s draft report revealed “serious deficiencies” of the Greek government to comply with its obligations under the Schengen’s Agreement rules regarding the control of the migrant influx. If these suggestions are voted by the majority of the EU member states, then Greece will be given a 90 days ultimatum to reverse the situation otherwise the rest Schengen countries will introduce temporary border controls.

While all this is happening in Brussels, another tragedy has taken place near the Greek island of Samos with 26 drowned migrants and many more missing when their boat was sank in the Aegean Sea.

The outcome of the informal meeting of the Ministers of Home Affairs, which was held in Amsterdam last Monday, was a forerunner of what would follow. Many Interior Ministers were in favor of tightening border controls even further and also suggested that Athens should be “kicked out” of the Schengen Area since migratory flows were not going down.

It is clear that the migration crisis has pushed the Old Continent to its very limits. The solutions that are proposed and attempted have not yet paid back, obviously. Hence, the EC is putting pressure on the table by promoting a temporary Schengen “Grexit” in order to keep the migrants from overflooding northern Europe.

Interior Ministers in panic

The discussion of the Interior Ministers was needless to say very intense and everyone’s mind was at Schengen’s future. More specifically, Klaas Dijkhoff, the Dutch migration minister, mentioned that the member states are about to ask the EC to extend border controls because the refugees crisis is not slowing down. Furthermore, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Austrian interior minister walking the same path stressed that: “Schengen is on the brink of collapse.”

The Austrian Minister opposed to the Greek government’s arguments regarding patrolling the borders with Turkey and stated: “Greece has one of the biggest navies in Europe. It’s a myth that the Greek-Turkish border cannot be protected.” The Swedish home affairs minister, Anders Ygeman, also reinforced this statement by saying that: “If a country doesn’t live up to its obligations, we will have to restrict its connections to the Schengen area.”

The European Commission was represented there by Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, who attempted once more to urge the member states to act with solidarity and responsibility by crying out that: “It is time for ALL Member States to deliver on ALL commitments made. Unless Member States fully deliver on their promises and respect the rules that are in place, we will not be able to tackle effectively the current challenges. I cannot repeat it enough: The only solution to the refugee crisis is a European one.”

Commission points the finger to Greece

The Commission’s draft report indicates how the Greek authorities are dealing with the control, and particularly the efficiency of the identification and registration process of the migrants. It also refers to the sea border surveillance and cooperation with neighbouring countries and is conducted since last November in the Greek-Turkish land border and mainly the Greek islands of Chios and Samos.

The main conclusions are that “there is no effective identification and registration of irregular migrants and that fingerprints are not being systematically entered into the system and travel documents are not being systematically checked for the authenticity or against crucial security databases, such as SIS, Interpol and national databases.” The latter findings have caused major reactions both by the Greek and the rest of the EU countries.

Isolating Greece is not the solution

On the contrary, the countries which are blaming Greece for not doing the necessary to overcome this daunting situation are further closing their borders and tightening their controls following a nationalistic approach that reminds us all of the good bad times of Europe; an approach that is not in line with the EU ideals.

Even if Greece exits the Schengen Area and border controls are implemented in the rest member states, migrants will find a way to be installed at an economically wealthy EU country, driven mostly by their despair to flee from extreme war conditions. The only thing that a possible Schengen Grexit will cause is to worsen the Greek economy even further and to flood the country with thousands of migrants living in camps trying to find their way out, for a pretty much indefinite period of time.

All in all, it is more than obvious now that if this crisis continues at the same pace, it will lead to dramatic and unprecedented changes in the EU and in Schengen, with countries to be led only by their nationalistic instincts dividing Europe into north and south, prosper and economically weak countries and blocks. Not that this task has not been already performed well.

However, there is still some hope since the EU leaders will convene on February 18-19 to discuss on how to proceed and deal with this long-lasting issue. Finally!

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