Eleonas camp in Athens in December 2015 / ec.europa.eu

The idea of excluding Greece from Schengen was discussed on the margins of a meeting of the EU interior ministers. The European Commission is asked to analyse legal possibilities to maintain border controls within the Schengen for another two years.

After the possible “Grexit” (Greece out of the Eurozone) or “Brexit” (Great Britain leaving the EU), the new buzzword in Brussels could soon become “Schexit” – an exclusion of a country from the Schengen area.

The member state in the spot light is Greece again, under pressure for not securing enough its maritime border with Turkey and for not registering the totality of refugees arriving in the country.

Over the weekend, the Austrian Interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner threatened Greece by saying the country could temporarily be excluded from the Schengen area.

“I think it’s clear that if we do not succeed to secure the border between Greece and Turkey, the external border of Schengen will move towards Central Europe,” the Austrian minister said arriving at a meeting of EU interior ministers in Amsterdam.

Mikl-Leitner said it is “myth” to pretend it is impossible to control the Greek-Turkish border. Greek navy has enough capacities to do the job, she said.

Austria was backed by Sweden and Germany, two countries which also put a lot of pressure on Greece.

Entering the meeting in Amsterdam, the German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière did not explicitly exclude that Greece could be expelled from Schengen.

“We will exercise influence on Greece and make sure that the country is doing its homework,” de Maizière said.

Greece wants to remain a part of Schengen

Greek representatives draw another picture of the facts. In Amsterdam, the Greek Interior Minister Nikos Toskas and the Greek Immigration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas together asked their colleagues to end what they called a “campaign of bashing” against their country.

Excluding Greece from Schengen zone would not keep migrants from making their way to Germany or Sweden, Mouzalas said in an interview with the Financial Times. Greece “does not intend to become a cemetery of souls,” the minister stressed.

Mouzalas also noted that Athens has not been informed on any plans to suspend the Greek membership in the Schengen zone.

The topic was not discussed at the ministers’ meeting in Amsterdam, Mouzalas told the Greek member of Euranet Plus, Skaï Radio. Instead, the ministers had focused on Turkey, Mouzalas said. (audio in Greek)

“The only person that brought up the subject [of a Grexit from the Schengen area] was the interior minister of Belgium, who also proposed the shameful creation of a camp for 300 to 400,000 migrants in Athens, and also organizing returns of migrants, which is a criminal offense regarding the International Law. However, no one else raised the subject. I worry a lot, and we must worry in order to prevent bad consequences,” Mouzalas said.

In a press briefing, both Greek ministers rejected the criticism that Greece was not registering migrants at the borders, arguing that currently a 80 percent rate of fingerprinting has been achieved.

They also underlined that half of the member states have not given any commitments on the agreed scheme to relocate refugees.

So far, 351 refugees have taken part in the programme which is supposed to redistribute 160,000 migrants from Greece and Italy within EU countries in the next two years.

Proposal to beef up Macedonian-Greek border

Slovenia came forward with a proposal to assist Macedonia in strengthening the controls on its border to Greece. According to different media reports, this proposal was welcomed by European Commission President Juncker in a letter he sent to the Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar.

The Slovenian Interior Minister Vesna Györkis Znidar said in Amsterdam that Slovenia did not intend to isolate Greece, but to reduce the number of migrants on the Balkan route.

Meanwhile, the freshly installed prime minister of neighbouring Croatia, Tihomir Oreskovic, told the Croatian national broadcaster HRT that for the time being, Croatia, which so far let the influx of migrants pass through its borders, does not intend to change its policy. (audio in Croatian)

“Croatia is a transit country, we have been ready and we will remain to be ready to help refugees who are coming from the Middle East and who travel towards Germany and other EU countries. Should their policy change, then Croatia will have to change its policy as well because in the end we should look after Croatia’s national interest,” Oreskovic said.

Two more years for Schengen border controls?

At their meeting, the EU interior ministers called on the European Commission to check the legal basis for an extension of border controls within the Schengen zone.

Currently six Schengen countries – five of them EU member states – reintroduced controls at their borders. In the case of Germany and Austria this extension expires in May, but many members states are worried that this period of time will not be enough to fix the refugees issue.

“We have asked the Commission to prepare a legal analysis to continue border controls and to use Article 26,” the Dutch Secretary of State for Justice, Klaas Dijkhoff, said.

Eleonas camp in Athens in December 2015 / ec.europa.eu

The Commission will have to assess the situation on the Greek borders by mid May. Then a three-months process will begin, where Brussels can elaborate a plan to reinsure the safety of the Schengen borders.

In case Greece will not be able to implement the proposed measures, Article 26 will be activated and member states could renew internal border controls four times for a period of six months and a maximum of two years.

  • This report has been made with the support of Euranet Plus members Skai radio and HRT
  • Author: Daniele Weber, Euranet Plus News Agency