The Financial Times came out slamming European plans to make Greece a holding pen for migrants and refugees, calling the crisis “biggest the EU has faced in its history” and saying that “Europe has lacked unity and political will throughout this crisis that it now has no option but to contemplate crude measures.”
The opinion piece criticized European leaders for numerous plans brought forth to resolve the ongoing refugee crisis, including kicking Greece out of the Schengen passport-free travel zone.
“Kicking Greece out of Schengen will make a few EU leaders feel good. It is nowhere near providing the answers that Europe needs,” the opinion piece said.
Following is the Financial Times opinion piece in its entirety:
Europe’s Schengen system permitting passport-free travel across 26 countries is on the brink of collapse. Following the arrival of 1.8m refugees on the continent last year, several EU states — Hungary, Austria and Sweden among them — set up temporary border controls to process migrants and assuage the anxiety of voters on immigration. However, barring a dramatic change in Syria, a further 1m asylum seekers are expected to arrive in Europe in 2016. This is forcing EU leaders to consider more drastic action.
One idea that looks likely to be implemented is the suspension of Schengen for two years from May. The restoration of frontier controls would undermine one of the bloc’s biggest political achievements, yet even this will not stem the tide of migrants coming from the eastern Mediterranean. About 45,000 made their way from Turkey to Greece this month, 30 times the figure for January 2015. It is for this reason that the EU has the status of Greece’s borders in its sights.
On Wednesday, the commission threatened to suspend Athens from Schengen, arguing that it is not properly processing migrants on its territory. Some EU leaders are going further, suggesting the bloc should assist Macedonia, a non-EU state, to seal its border with Greece, the main route north for many refugees. The Greeks have responded furiously, saying this would turn the country into a “cemetery of souls”. Their anger is largely justified.
Greece can be criticised for failing to effectively manage the refugee influx. The EU has given Athens funds to set up five resettlement camps but only one has been built. Instead of registering asylum applicants, the Greeks have allowed many to travel into Europe.
In most other respects, however, Athens can hardly be blamed. Some 850,000 migrants last year came to Greece, a country of 11m. No government could cope with arrivals on this scale using peaceful means. Germany, the EU’s richest state, has struggled to manage an influx of a few hundred thousand more.
Athens can also argue that the EU has done little to help in its hour of need. The commission last year identified 160,000 migrants located in Italy and Greece who needed resettling across the bloc, but only a handful have been relocated. The commission called for the EU’s external border to be strengthened so as to save Schengen but resources invested have been minimal. The EU needs to provide significant financial support to Syria’s neighbours — Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon — as they cope with millions in refugee camps, but even the €3bn the EU has promised for Ankara is held up in squabbling over who will pay.
It is because Europe has lacked unity and political will throughout this crisis that it now has no option but to contemplate crude measures. Brussels should be under no illusion over how politically dangerous the sealing of the Macedonia-Greece border would be. The EU would be helping a non-member state to build a physical frontier in defiance of one of its own. It would heighten the impression that wealthy Europeans regard Greece, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon as little more than vast holding pens for migrants. Nor will a fence do much to deter desperate people who will find other ways to travel to Europe.
The refugee crisis is the biggest the EU has faced in its history. The challenge has been exacerbated by Europe’s inability to act collectively and decisively. Kicking Greece out of Schengen will make a few EU leaders feel good. It is nowhere near providing the answers that Europe needs.