Sunday 18 August 2019

Collapse of 'comatose' Schengen will spell the end of the euro, warns EC president Juncker

Stranded Iranian migrant on hunger strike looks on after waking-up in front of Macedonian riot police at the border between Greece and Macedonia near the Greek village of Idomeni yesterday.
Stranded Iranian migrant on hunger strike looks on after waking-up in front of Macedonian riot police at the border between Greece and Macedonia near the Greek village of Idomeni yesterday.
Angela Merkel

Matthew Holehouse in Brussels

The Schengen zone is "partially comatose", Jean-Claude Juncker conceded yesterday as he warned that its collapse would take down the Eurozone.

The single currency cannot survive if the free movement of people granted by the passport-free travel zone ends, the president of the European Commission (EC) said, in the starkest warning yet.

Mr Juncker could only watch this summer after state after state reintroduced border controls in a desperate attempt to halt the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants.

Then the Paris terrorist attacks led France to announce indefinite border checks.

"We have to safeguard the spirit behind Schengen," Mr Juncker told the European Parliament.

"Yes, the Schengen system is partially comatose. But those who believe in Europe, its values, its principles and its freedoms, must try to breathe new life into the spirit behind Schengen.

"If the spirit leaves our hearts, we will lose more than Schengen. A single currency does not exist if Schengen fails. It is not a neutral concept. It is not banal. It is one of the pillars of the construction of Europe."

Under the French crackdown, passport checks are being carried out on cross-border trains and at checkpoints on certain road crossings.

At least three of the Paris attackers are believed to have used the migrant trail to enter Europe undetected, leading to accusations from Ukip that the Schengen amounted to the "free movement of kalashnikovs, terrorists and jihadists".

"Please don't get things mixed up. We should not exploit in an absurd manner these tragic events," said Mr Juncker, whose office had resisted French demands for universal security checks on migrants and EU passport holders.

Fabrice Leggeri, the head of Frontex, the EU agency charged with protecting the bloc's external borders, admitted that it would take more than a year for his body to be granted access to the security databases that would allow it to detect terrorists.

He blamed MEPs for denying Frontex access to such databases in the past.

Norway, which is not in the EU but sits within Schengen, became the latest to reintroduce border checks yesterday to halt the flow from neighbouring Sweden, which is expected to receive an extra 350,000 people by the end of next year.

"The large number of asylum seekers and migrants is creating big challenges for us," said Siv Jensen, the finance minister, in a statement.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, issued an ultimatum yesterday to EU leaders to embrace Mr Juncker's troubled migrant relocation scheme or see the collapse of free movement.

Ms Merkel drove the policy to relocate 160,000 people around the EU against the heads of eastern European states. Two months on, the project has flopped. Member states have offered just 3,000 places and 159 people have been moved.

"A distribution of refugees according to economic strength and other conditions, and the readiness for a permanent distribution mechanism, will determine whether the Schengen area will hold in the long term," she said.

Earlier yesterday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was quoted in a German newspaper as saying that European countries are stretched to their limits in the refugee crisis and cannot take in any more new arrivals.

"We cannot accommodate any more refugees in Europe, that's not possible," Valls told the 'Sueddeutsche Zeitung', adding that tighter control of Europe's external borders would determine the fate of the European Union.

"If we don't do that, the people will say: 'Enough of Europe'," Valls warned.

The comments were published only hours before Ms Merkel was scheduled to meet French President François Hollande in Paris.

Some of her opponents say Ms Merkel's decision to open up Germany's borders to Syrian refugees in September has spurred more migrants to come.


Mr Valls avoided criticising Ms Merkel directly for having suspended European asylum rules to allow in Syrian refugees stranded in Hungary. "Germany has made an honourable choice there," he said.

But he signalled that Paris was taken by surprise by Ms Merkel's decision: "It was not France that said: 'Come!'"

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron and his German counterpart, Sigmar Gabriel, have proposed setting up a €10bn fund to pay for tighter security, external border controls and caring for refugees.

The United Nations on Tuesday condemned new restrictions on refugees that have left around 1,000 migrants stuck at the main border crossing into Macedonia from Greece.

Irish Independent

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