Europe just gave Greece a big ultimatum.
On Friday, EU member states told Greece that it has three months to remedy the “deficiencies” in controlling the influx of migrants, or else “effectively face suspension from the Schengen passport-free zone,” reported the AFP.
The Schengen Agreement allows for passport-free movement across a wide swathe of Europe, and is a big deal for trade and tourism in Europe.
This ultimatum comes at a time when Europe is dealing with a massive refugee crisis, and wants to stem the flow of migrants.
At the same time, Greece is effectively the “main gateway to Europe” for many refugees and migrants given its geographic position relative to Turkey.
The financially struggling nation has been criticised by the EU for “not managing the flows [of migrants] properly.” Most recently
, the AFP stated that a report adopted 10 days earlier by the European Commission found that Greece had not been properly registering and fingerprinting migrants during inspections at the Turkish border, as well as in several islands in the Aegean Sea last November.
And now, basically, the EU is giving Greece one month to “establish an action plan to remedy the deficiencies” and, after an additional two months, it must report back on how the plan is being implemented.
If Greece fails to better the situation by mid-May, then the EU could “authorise other member states to exceptionally extend border controls within the EU’s cherished Schengen area, including with Greece, for up to two years, instead of the normal six months,” according to the AFP.
“The overall functioning of the Schengen Area is at serious risk,” the European Council said. “The difficulties faced by Greece have an impact on the EU as a whole.”
“It is highly unlikely that Athens would be able to deliver on all requirements and that could lead the bloc’s executive European Commission recommending the unprecedented activation of rules allowing member states to have controls on internal Schengen frontiers for up to two years,” reported Reuters’ Alastair MacDonald and Gabriela Baczynska.
And, in any case, such a decision would still have to be approved by the 28 EU states.
This decision also comes at a stressful financial time for Greece. The country is once again attempting to negotiate with its creditors — although any possible agreement is still likely “weeks away” — and is being rattled by angry rioters protesting against pension reforms.
This does not bode well for a quick fix.
Or, as Eurasia group president Ian Bremmer summed it up in a note to readers: “When the refugee crisis and the Greek financial crisis collide with domestic and EU politics, we’ll be right back in the soup.”‘
Interestingly, Bremmer also noted that Greece could end up as Europe’s scapegoat in the refugee crisis.
If the EU-Turkey deal to limit the flow of migrants ends of failing, Merkel-led Europe, which is in a much weaker position than it was back in June, could point a finger at Greece and then close the boarders with Macedonia and Bulgaria.
And if Greece does end up being blamed, its government will not take it lightly. Again, as Bremmer told BI (emphasis ours):
“[Greek prime minister Alexis] Tsipras will be in no mood to tolerate European recrimination. Especially given the extraordinary economic hardship the country is already going through. That’s doubly true with European support of Macedonia — which Greece doesn’t recognise. The Greek opposition can’t come offer Tsipras on the refugee issue; it’s a matter of national unity.
So, essentially, the European political crisis boils down to a Greek national emergency. The Greek ‘deal’ is much more likely to fall apart in this environment.”
As for the bigger picture here, Bremmer told Business Insider via email that “the biggest near term risk [from the aforementioned scenario] remains the effective end of the Schengen Agreement.”
“In the longer term, though, it’s a severe erosion of the values and principles Europe stands for,” argues Bremmer.
“Europe has been the most ambitious experiment in supranational democratic governance ever undertaken. We’re watching it fail.”
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