Denmark imposes temporary ID checks on its border with Germany following a similar move by Sweden, dealing a double blow to Europe’s fraying passport-free Schengen area amid a record influx of migrants

After Sweden on Monday introduced passport checks for everyone entering the country from Denmark, Copenhagen has in turn introduced controls on its border with Germany. Both countries want to limit the number of refugees entering their territory with these measures. The much proclaimed end of the Schengen Area will become reality in 2016, some commentators predict. Others suspect that Northern Europe simply wants to exclude the weaker South from Schengen.

2016 could see the end of Schengen

Warnings that Europe might collapse are no longer merely expressions of concern lacking in substance, journalist Eric Bonse writes in his Blog Lost in EUrope (Belgium):

“They are also a political means of exerting pressure and pushing through national interests. Particularly popular nowadays are warnings of the end of the Schengen Area and freedom of travel in Europe, which are being cast as the biggest accomplishments of European unity. Above all Merkel is using the Schengen cudgel to convince the Greeks and Eastern Europeans to do more in the refugee crisis, albeit with modest success. At the last EU summit in mid-December it turned out that neither the ‘naysayers’ in Eastern Europe nor Merkel’s ‘coalition of the willing’ – which is now coming together for an extra round of meetings – are making any headway. Merkel must now be careful that her warning does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy. … 2016 could be the year the borders close.”

 

Domino effect can still be avoided

The controls on the border between Denmark and Sweden don’t necessarily spell the end of Schengen but could instead lead to greater cooperation on refugee policy, writes the liberal daily Dagens Nyheter (Sweden):

“Two scenarios seem likely: the first would be the gradual dismantlement of the Schengen system, the abolishment of joint regulations and the closure of borders in Europe. In the other scenario the crisis would prompt the EU countries to set up a common structure for the immigration of refugees. Monday’s events could trigger either of these scenarios. There is a high risk of a domino effect, but this doesn’t have to be the case. The alternative could be that the EU is finally forced to implement the redistribution mechanism that was outlined last year and to set up so-called hotspots on the EU’s outer borders.”

 

The North wants to shut out the South

The border controls in Northern Europe are the first step towards a reconstituted Schengen Area, the centre-left daily La Repubblica (Italy) fears:

“In view of the passport controls on Øresund Bridge, one could say that this time around the weak link in European solidarity lies in the rich and advanced countries of Northern Europe, and not in the continent’s ‘soft belly’. … Unfortunately that’s not how things are. Because seen from the perspective of the Baltic, Europe’s problem is once again Greece – and in part Italy. Athens is accused of doing nothing to check the flow of migrants coming to Europe across the Aegean. But if the principle that the countries of first arrival are to blame for the situation wins out, then the danger exists that a Schengen Area will emerge from which these countries are excluded. This idea of a reduced Schengen Area has already been considered openly – namely by the Dutch government, which took over the rotating EU Council presidency on January 1.”

 

Maintain Schengen, protect external borders

The reintroduction of border controls could backfire, warns Daniel Gros, Director of the Centre for European Policy Studies, in the liberal business weekly Finanz und Wirtschaft (Switzerland):

“But, far from making Europeans safer, rolling back Schengen would actually hinder the fight against terrorism, because countries would be forced to devote valuable resources – thousands of police officers, if the agreement were to be abolished altogether – to checking documents at borders. Those resources would no longer contribute directly to investigations into terrorist activities. … What the Schengen Area needs is a true European coast guard, with its own budget, ships, and personnel. The Mediterranean can be expected to remain the main security challenge for some time, owing both to illegal immigration and its proximity to terrorist training grounds. It thus makes sense for the new coast guard, backed by EU funds, to start there.”

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