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Immigration/Emmigration

E.U. Ministers Spar as Bloc’s Promise of Free Movement Wavers

Migrants on Monday at a camp in the northern Greek village of Idomeni, near the Macedonian border. Credit Giannis Papanikos/Associated Press


AMSTERDAM — European Union interior ministers clashed on Monday over how to check the flow of migrants across their countries’ borders amid growing concern that the Continent’s commitment to the free movement of people within the bloc is at risk of collapse.

Some of the wealthy northern nations that are the preferred destinations of many migrants suggested that much of the solution should rest with their neighbors to the south, especially Greece, the main entry point into the European Union for refugees arriving from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan via Turkey. At a meeting here, Germany told Greece to do its “homework” to stop the flow at its borders, and Austria suggested that Greece could be excluded from the Schengen area, which allows border-free travel across much of the European Union.

Interactive Graphic: Countries Under the Most Strain in the European Migration Crisis
There is a “blame game against Greece,” Mr. Mouzalas said.

The larger question hanging over the ministers’ two-day meeting in Amsterdam is whether the European Union can agree on a collective approach to limiting the influx of migrants at Europe’s external borders — or whether that approach becomes an every-country-for-itself scramble to harden individual borders in response to domestic political, social and economic pressures.

Thousands of migrants are still arriving daily, and with no sign of a peaceful resolution in countries like Syria and Iraq, many more are expected this year as spring approaches and travel conditions from Turkey improve.

In the absence of any agreement on how to ease the flow of people into Greece and Italy, the crisis has become a political time bomb.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is under increased pressure from conservatives to reverse her government’s policy of welcoming migrants. In Brussels, there are even concerns that the failure to agree on a solution could threaten the entire European Union project, which began after World War II with the goal of unifying the Continent and ensuring its peaceable future.

The European Union has been trying to persuade Turkey to take a more active role in resolving the crisis by doing more to look after refugees there and stop them from trying the journey to the European Union.

Another idea that has gained growing attention is to choke off some of the northward flow of migrants at the border between Greece and Macedonia, potentially leaving huge numbers of migrants in Greece at a time when that country is still recovering from its depression-like downturn.

On Monday, over lunch at the Dutch National Maritime Museum, the ministers discussed freezing the free movement of people inside parts of the bloc for up to a further two years.

So far, six countries, including Germany and Austria, have suspended the system for a legally permissible period of six months. For Germany and Austria, that six-month period expires in late spring, just as a surge of new arrivals from the Middle East and Africa is expected.

The ministers also agreed to continue hashing out plans to create a European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

That plan would double the staff of the current border agency, Frontex, and would create a separate reserve force to be deployed even when a member state rejects help. But some politicians suspect a blunt power grab by Brussels intended to diminish national sovereignty.

Arriving at the meeting in Amsterdam, the Austrian interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, warned that “the external Schengen border will move back towards Central Europe” — a thinly veiled threat to exclude Greece from the passport-free area unless Athens acted more forcefully.

“It is a myth to think that the Greek-Turkish border cannot be secured,” Ms. Mikl-Leitner said, adding, “The Greek Navy has sufficient capacities to protect this border.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/26/world/europe/eu-ministers-spar-as-blocs-promise-of-free-movement-wavers.html

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