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The European Immigration Crisis
Nothing So Permanent As Temporary Measures

Citing an emergency measure never used before, a German government official told the elites assembled at Davos on Thursday that Berlin may keep border controls in place for up to two years. The Times (of London) reports:

Thomas de Maizière, the German interior minister, said that he could see no end to the temporary controls put in place at the border with Austria in September to check for genuine asylum seekers. The measures were supposed to continue only until March.

It was another blow to the Schengen system of free travel between 26 nations. Austria announced on Wednesday that it would cap migrant numbers at 37,500 this year. Angela Merkel has refused to follow suit, and is sticking by her commitment to welcome all eligible asylum seekers, despite mounting calls from across the German political spectrum to introduce quotas.

Mr de Maizière’s words suggest that Germany will apply to extend controls for two years; an emergency provision in the rules which has never before been used. The provision has always been viewed as a point of no return for Schengen — which ended passport checks on Europe’s internal national borders in 1986 — because it will probably prompt other nations to follow suit and entrench border checks.

Looks like the Europeans are starting to follow the TAI line of thinking on the Turkish deal that was supposed to stop all this:

The German decision comes amid a growing belief that Greece and Turkey will be unable to stem the flow of migrants when numbers begin to increase again in March. The milder spring weather makes sea crossings and travel on the Balkans route easier.

So the “temporary” measures may be extended—to the point where they will, de facto, be the new permanent reality.

In a way, this makes sense. The EU’s governing logic has increasingly emphasized the need to use each crisis to achieve closer integration; this is something Brussels has relied more and more on since the series of crises starting with the financial crash in 2008. But this method has had increasingly diminishing returns—the euro, for instance, is still not truly fixed. This time around, the lack of planning and true consensus may cause unacceptable costs:

“If Schengen in this form were to be destroyed now, and the European Union massively endangered, then I would worry about a chain reaction which would not stop at the euro. The whole shebang would go up in the air,” said Anton Börner, head of the BGA German trade federation.

As French PM Manuel Valls put it even more bluntly, the EU could “die” if it doesn’t figure out immigration. For as things stand right now, Schengen cannot be left open, either.

Visionary leadership and sound diplomacy will be needed if Europe is to thread this needle. A muddle, sadly, is more likely—limping along until the next crisis—which would save more face for European leaders, but cause more pain all around.

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