Category Archives: Schengen

(BBG) Schengen Tensions Grow as Sweden’s Border Checks Anger Danes

(BBG – click to see) Sweden’s decision to start imposing official border checks is leading to a rapid deterioration in relations with its neighbor to the south as Denmark warns the measures may have a ripple effect that bleeds deeper into Europe.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen used his New Year’s speech to warn that his government may now be forced to impose controls at the German border as Swedish efforts to stem the flow of Middle Eastern refugees exacerbate an already tense immigration situation. As of Monday, Sweden is checking the IDs of people crossing their border by bus, train or ferry.

“For the first time since the 1950s, one will now need an ID-card to cross” over to Sweden, Rasmussen said in the Jan. 1 speech. “This shows what’s at stake. And this can create a situation in which we will need to introduce border controls toward Germany, if we decide that’s what’s best for Denmark.” In a Facebook post on Monday, Rasmussen said the decision will create “difficulty and problems for the many people who every day commute” between the two countries, describing it as a “major step backwards.”

A temporary fence is erected between domestic and international tracks at Hyllie rail station in southern Malmo, Sweden, on Jan. 3, 2016.
A temporary fence is erected between domestic and international tracks at Hyllie rail station in southern Malmo, Sweden, on Jan. 3, 2016.
Photographer: Johan Nilsson/AFP via Getty Images

The spat marks a low point in Danish-Swedish relations after Prime Minister Stefan Loefven last year joined Germany in welcoming hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers fleeing persecution in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Sweden was then forced to backtrack on its generous policy, arguing that Europe’s failure to share the burden of absorbing refugees made its position untenable. About 80,000 asylum seekers arrived in Sweden in October and November, roughly as many as entered the country in all of 2014.

Travelers headed for Sweden on Monday were met by manned controls at the train station at Copenhagen airport, the last stop before trains cross the Oeresund bridge to Malmoe, Sweden’s third-largest city. Each day, about 74,900 people cross the bridge, which connects Sweden to Denmark and is the longest road and rail link in Europe. Another 20,900 use the ferry between the towns of Elsinore and Helsingborg.

In the 1990s, the two countries wanted to create a cross-border business and urban area, which they estimated would more than justify the 30 billion-krone ($4.4 billion) cost of building the Oeresund bridge. The plan also received European Union funding, and has been held up as a prime example of economic integration across borders.

But the border checks, to which Norway has also resorted, are testing the Schengen agreement that was supposed to ensure passport-free travel across much of Europe. The influx of people fleeing war in the Middle East may pose an even bigger threat to Europe’s economy than the debt crisis from which it has only just emerged, Nobel economics laureate Angus Deaton said last month. The development “could certainly make the economic situation very much worse,” he said in an interview in Stockholm.

(BBG) Denmark Imposes Controls at German Border as Schengen Unravels

(BBG – click to see) Denmark is enforcing what it described as temporary controls on its German border, following its Scandinavian neighbors Sweden and Norway in stepping up measures to stem the influx of migrants from the war-ravaged Middle East.

Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, who signaled in a New Year’s speech that his government was considering the move, said the controls took effect at noon local time. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was briefed before the measures were enforced, Rasmussen said. The controls will initially be imposed for a period of 10 days, he said.

It’s the latest move putting passport-free travel across Europe at risk as the Schengen agreement designed to bring the union closer together shows signs of unraveling. Denmark says Sweden’s decision to start official border checksforced it to impose controls toward Germany. As of Monday, Sweden started inspecting the IDs of people crossing their border by road, rail or sea.

A temporary fence is erected between domestic and international tracks at Hyllie rail station in southern Malmo, Sweden, on Jan. 3, 2016.
A temporary fence is erected between domestic and international tracks at Hyllie rail station in southern Malmo, Sweden, on Jan. 3, 2016.
Photographer: Johan Nilsson/AFP via Getty Images

“For the first time since the 1950s, one will now need an ID-card to cross” over to Sweden, Rasmussen said in his Jan. 1 speech. “This shows what’s at stake.” In a Facebook post on Monday, Rasmussen said the decision will create “difficulty and problems for the many people who every day commute” between the two countries, describing it as a “major step backwards.”

The spat marks a low point in Danish-Swedish relations after Prime Minister Stefan Loefven last year joined Germany in welcoming hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers fleeing persecution in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Sweden was then forced to backtrack on its generous policy, arguing that Europe’s failure to share the burden of absorbing refugees made its position untenable. About 80,000 asylum seekers arrived in Sweden in October and November, roughly as many as entered the country in all of 2014.

Travelers headed for Sweden on Monday were met by manned controls at the train station at Copenhagen airport, the last stop before trains cross the Oeresund bridge to Malmoe, Sweden’s third-largest city. Each day, about 74,900 people cross the bridge, which connects Sweden to Denmark and is the longest road and rail link in Europe. Another 20,900 use the ferry between the towns of Elsinore and Helsingborg.

In the 1990s, the two countries wanted to create a cross-border business and urban area, which they estimated would more than justify the 30 billion-krone ($4.4 billion) cost of building the Oeresund bridge. The plan also received European Union funding, and has been held up as a prime example of economic integration across borders.

But the border checks, to which Norway has also resorted, are testing the Schengen agreement that was supposed to ensure passport-free travel across much of Europe. The influx of people fleeing war in the Middle East may pose an even bigger threat to Europe’s economy than the debt crisis from which it has only just emerged, Nobel economics laureate Angus Deaton said last month. The development “could certainly make the economic situation very much worse,” he said in an interview in Stockholm.

(FT) EU ministers eye temporary Schengen suspension

(FT) EU ministers eye temporary Schengen suspension

Refugees and migrants arrive at Lesbos island after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey on October on October 29, 2015. At least seven children died when boats carrying migrants sank off Greece on October 28, as rescue workers battled to save more youngsters on the seashore in the latest desperate scenes in Europe's refugee crisis. Since the start of the year, 560,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece by sea, out of over 700,000 who have reached Europe via the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINISARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images©AFP

Refugees arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos in October

EU ministers will on Friday discuss suspending the Schengen passport-free travel zone for two years, on the basis that the migrant crisis has exposed “serious deficiencies” at the Greek border that endanger the overall area.

This resort to the most drastic emergency measure available in Schengen’s rule book underlines how the 20 year-old integration project has been gravely threatened by the political pressures of at least 1.2m irregular migrants entering the bloc this year.

The option of invoking “Article 26” is proposed in a leaked discussion paper for EU home affairs ministers prepared by Luxembourg, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

If ministers support the proposal the European Commission would be able to recommend closing one or more internal borders within Schengen for up to two years.

In effect, this would see the temporary border checks introduced this summer between countries such as Austria and Germany become a long-term fixture, fracturing the passport-free zone.

It comes after the EU repeatedly warned Greece to overhaul its response to the migration crisis and seek outside help or face a possible suspension from the Schengen zone.

The Luxembourg paper unexpectedly goes further — not just threatening Greece with the suspension and reimposition of borders, but escalating the recommendation to potentially cover more member states.

This could allow countries such as Germany, Austria, France and Sweden to tighten and extend the temporary border restrictions they already have in place, which have been approved by the commission.

A second advantage to using the Schengen-wide suspension clause is the prompt imposition of border controls. Attempting to suspend an individual member state requires a period of assessment and remedial measures that could take at least three months.

Greece shares no land borders with other countries in the Schengen area so its suspension from the free movement zone is unlikely to hinder the flow of refugees though it would inconvenience Greek air passengers. As such, EU officials admit the threats are primarily aimed at motivating Alexis Tsipras, the Greek premier, and his cabinet to fully accept EU support to cope with the crisis.

Steve Peers, a law professor at the University of Essex, said: “It’s possible that the general threat to suspend Schengen is intended as a threat to suspend Greece only, but is simply badly drafted. Or perhaps the idea is to threaten to suspend the whole of Schengen and pin the blame on Greece. Either way, in my view, this threat is seriously mistaken, for both legal and political reasons.”

Greece’s relatively weak administration has been overwhelmed by more than 700,000 migrants crossing its borders this year. Given the severity of the crisis, EU officials were vexed by Athens’ refusal to call in a special mission from Frontex, the EU border agency, and its unwillingness to accept EU humanitarian aid.

But after coming under pressure from EU officials and other member states, Greece has climbed down on both issues. Greek officials agreed to allow Frontex border guards to operate on the country’s northern border with Macedonia from next week.

On top of this, Yiannis Mouzalas, migration minister, told parliament that Greece asked today for the EU’s civil protection mechanism to be activated so that humanitarian aid can quickly be sent to islands and the northern border with Macedonia.

“We requested this today not months ago because at that time we weren’t in a position to ascertain our exact needs,” he said. He said it would take up to 10 days to move migrants gathered at the Idomeni border crossing with Macedonia into shelter at an unspecified location in Greece.

The Schengen suspension threats to Greece were first reported by the Financial Times on Tuesday.

Schengen map

As well as raising the option of suspending Schengen along multiple borders, the paper includes a demand that Greece requests an emergency Frontex mission and deploys hundreds of European border guards “without delay to address severe difficulties encountered with neighbouring countries”.

Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, has warned Athens of drastic measures to reimpose its borders with Schengen if it is unable to meet partners’ expectations by the time of a summit of EU leaders in mid-December.EU-ministers-eye-temporary-Schengen-suspension-FT

V.V.I. (FT) If Schengen fails: Four scenarios threatening passport-free zone

(FT)

Migrants crossing into Hungary...epa04847316 Refugees are seen at the railway station of Subotica, northern Serbia, near the Hungarian border, early 15 July 2015. Migrants have been crossing into Hungary from Serbia into the Schengen zone of the European Union. Hungary has for weeks been threatening to seal its border with Serbia and says it is unable to cope with the influx of migrants transiting from the Middle East and Africa. EPA/EDVARD MOLNAR HUNGARY OUT©EPA

If the Schengen accord finally buckles under the weight of Europe’s migration and security crises, the world’s biggest border-busting experiment will probably end as it began: with a long traffic jam.

Some three decades ago it was angry truckers protesting over Franco-German border queues that pushed Paris and Berlin to meld their frontiers. It was a vital step towards what became today’s Schengenland — a 1.7m square miles zone of passport-free travel in the heart of Europe.

Today, the neat row of cones along Germany’s A3 motorway crossing to Austria, funnelling cars to a crawl in front of watchful police officers, give a glimpse of how the 26 country enterprise may wither and die.

Such border controls are supposedly ad hoc and temporary. But they have left the Schengen zone “partly comatose”, according to Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president.

The implications are hard to overstate. The Schengen zone’s lattice of open roads has allowed goods and people to commute across borders for 20 years. Almost half of Luxembourg’s workforce lives outside the Grand Duchy. The freedoms are one of the most tangible benefits of European integration, and the physical lubricant to a single market.

Robert Cooper, a veteran Brussels diplomat, regards it as the “genuine advance of civilisation”.

What is now threatening to roll it back is a surge of nearly 1m migrants so far this year crossing the sea to Europe from the Middle East and north Africa. The sheer numbers have prompted a desperation in national capitals to try to regain some control over who enters their territory.

Meanwhile, the recent revelation that at least three of the jihadis who took part in the Paris terror attacks sneaked into Europe under the cover of the broader migrant flow, has confirmed security experts’ worst fears about the vulnerabilities the Schengen accord creates. Once a terrorist penetrates its external frontier, they can easily roam through the entire zone.

Rainer Muenz, a migration expert at Erste Bank, notes the Schengen accord was “conceived with the Iron Curtain in place”. Communist regimes were the external border police. “It was easy to have an open-door policy when almost nobody could come,” he said.

Brussels is trying to shore up the Schengen accord with a host of initiatives, from migrant quotas to appealing to Turkey to curb the inflow. But what if these don’t work? Here are four scenarios.

Schengen map

1. The expulsion of Greece

Greece is the Schengen zone’s Achilles heel: the main conduit for migrants to the rest of Europe and arguably the EU’s least capable state. Any country would struggle with the influx its eastern islands face from migrants massed in nearby Turkey. But its failure to seal its borders or fully process asylum claims makes a mockery of the principle that the first entry state is ultimately responsible for a migrant’s fate. Instead, Athens tends to allow migrants to journey onwards so that they become someone else’s problem.

“This dereliction of duty is the main reason the Schengen accord is falling apart,” said one senior European official handling the crisis.

Buried in the Schengen code are powers to suspend a country for “systematic deficiencies” in border management. Long dubbed “the Greek clause”, vexed EU leaders are now considering whether to use it.

In some ways expelling Greece makes little difference. It shares no land border with the Schengen zone. So its expulsion would probably not curb the onward flow of migrants. Its reception conditions were also considered too poor, by law, for migrants to be returned to them from elsewhere in Europe. Yet senior EU officials feel the threat may be the only way to convince Greece to shape up and request urgent assistance from the EU border agency, Frontex, which it refuses to do. Some officials blame “Greek incompetence”; others fear that, like Italy, it will never enforce rules that make it a migrant buffer zone for the rest of the EU.

2. The creeping return of borders

Fences are springing up along Schengen zone borders. What Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, was pilloried for initiating just a few months ago is almost becoming best practice. Slovenia is rolling barbed wire on its Croatia border, Austria along the Slovenian border (within the Schengen accord). Non-EU Balkan countries on the route up from Greece are to follow.

Borders are not entirely closed, but that option will exist now for some. Within the Schengen zone, too, Germany, Sweden, Austria and France are imposing more limited restrictions, with EU permission. The Paris attacks have given impetus to tighten rules further. The EU insists the measures are extraordinary and time-limited. But all capitals know these will be hard to reverse.

Schengen map

3. An archipelago of asylum camps

With fences and obstacles comes the need to manage concentrations of migrants. Passau in Germany, Spielfeld in Austria, Sentilj in Slovenia — old border towns such as these may ultimately host Schengen zone “transit areas” and “reception centres”. Europe would see an archipelago of asylum camps arise on its borderlands.

Some prefer that these centres be located in the country of entry — Greece or Italy — or along the Balkan route to Croatia. Yet wherever they are, compelling people to stay will require barbed wire, coercion and possibly force — and will be wrenching for European values.

“The pictures will be horrible, but what else can we do?” asked one senior northern European official. They already are. A Kurd in Macedonia who was this week deemed an economic migrant, as opposed to a refugee, stitched his mouth together in a hunger strike.

Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, the former president of Latvia and a wartime refugee, says such camps may be unavoidable. “We were put in prisoner-of-war-camps, along with the lice and bedbugs and fleas,” she said. “When you have hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their home, you have to put them somewhere. Being a refugee is simply grim. That is what it is.”

FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2015, file photo, people wait in line to enter the migrant and refugee registration camp in Moria, on the island of Lesbos, Greece. Some Republicans are pushing back against aggressive opposition in their party to Syrian refugees resettling in the U.S., fresh evidence of a rift within the GOP that threatens to complicate the party s outreach to minorities heading into the 2016 presidential contest. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic, File)

4. Schengen retreats

If Greece is the Schengen accord’s Achilles heel, Germany may be the force holding it together. Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected the idea of “sealing ourselves off”. She is also not prepared for German guards to use force against refugees.

Yet pressure is building. The anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland, which campaigns for “closed borders” to avoid “terror in Germany”, is growing. Even one Jewish community leader this week backed immigration quotas, warning that many of the new arrivals do not share German values of tolerance.

Reinstating full border controls would be hugely expensive. Officials lack the staff, equipment or infrastructure. Were it to happen, the Schengen accord may revert to the mini-zones, such as the Benelux or Nordic free movement areas, that pre-dated the project. Such a break-up could mark a dangerous collective loss of trust. “If the spirit leaves our hearts, we will lose more than the Schengen,” said Mr Juncker. “A single currency does not exist if the Schengen fails.”

If-Schengen-fails-Four-scenarios-threatening-passport-free-zone

+++ P.O./V.I. (BBG) Norway to Impose Border Controls, DN Says

P.O.

Schengen R.I.P. !

FCMP

(BBG) Norway is imposing border controls, DN reports.

* Decision follows move by Sweden to tighten controls in
response to growing refugee crisis: DN
* Norway PM Erna Solberg says “We can’t wait until the same
thing happens here, that’s why we’ve already put in place a
number of measures but we also need to follow closely what
other countries do and act fast”: DN
* Solberg has asked Justice Minister Anders Anundsen to impose
stricter border controls: DN