The Schengen zone, Europe’s passport-free travel area, is set to be suspended for two years in response to the deepening migration crisis.
Nations will be allowed to continue making checks on their borders for the next two years, unless migrant numbers miraculously subside in the coming six weeks. The decision was taken by European interior ministers, against the will of the European Commission, who had pleaded with them to preserve the “union’s biggest ever achievement”.
There are already temporary border measures in place across much of the continent, which can only remain in place for six months. There are checks between Germany and Austria; Denmark and Germany; Sweden and Denmark; Austria and Slovenia; Austria and Hungary; and Slovenia and Croatia.
The Dutch migration minister Klaas Dijkhoff, who chaired talks in Amsterdam on Monday, has now announced the decision to trigger “article 26” of the Schengen rules, allowing border controls to be extended for up to two years.
Speaking to the Times, An EU official said: “If border controls were allowed to remain for two years, it is difficult to see that they would ever be removed”.
Officials are also reported to be working on plans, first announced three days ago, to expel Greece from the free the travel area. The nation has repeatedly failed to stop or register hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving from Turkey and Bulgaria, simply waving them on to Northern Europe.
They are also studying a Belgian proposal to set up an EU detention camp on Greek territory for more than a quarter of a million migrants while their asylum claims are processed. Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission president, even backed a Slovenian call for European countries to send armed police and border guard units to Macedonia, which is outside the EU, to stop the flow of migrants.
Austria, Belgium and Germany are backing the plans to seal off Greece with fences unless the migrant flow is drastically reduced in the next six weeks. Germany’s stance has taken some by surprise, given that Chancellor Merkel has previously condemned the construction of all fences, even claiming their erection could spark a war in the Balkans.
Yiannis Mouzalas, the Greek interior minister, defended Greece by arguing that the only way to stop migrants arriving from Turkey was to shoot them. “It is very difficult to stop small boats coming except sinking or shooting them, which is against our European values and Greek values and we will not do that”, he said.