Refugee Crisis

Europe is Not Just an ATM

border police getty images distorted
The end of free movement in the European Union?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    In an attempt to manage the masses of refugees flocking into Europe, Germany has reinstated controls on the border to Austria, suspending an essential part of the Schengen Agreement.

  • Facts


    • The Schengen Area consists of 26 European countries that have abolished passport and other controls at their common internal borders. Some critics blame the borderless concept for accelerating the flow of immigrants to Europe.
    • The flood of refugees and migrants from troubled regions such as northern Africa and the Mideast led to a proposal that 160,000 such asylum-seekers be redistributed among E.U. nations.
    • Germany and Austria have been most affected by the mass movement of people, but some former Eastern Bloc countries are balking at a compulsory refugee quota.
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Schengen is an idyll, the name of a picturesque wine-growing village in southeast Luxembourg near the border with France and Germany, that is also a  favorite getaway destination, particularly during grape harvesting season.

The village has been a symbol of freedom of movement in Europe ever since the agreement signed in Schengen decades ago led to one of the European Union’s greatest achievements.

The pact did away with most of the E.U.’s internal borders and passport controls, allowing people and goods to move freely across most of the continent in what is known as the Schengen Area.

The entity came into being in 1995 and now covers all E.U. member states excluding Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom – but also includes Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.

Instead of an army of border officials in ugly little huts, we have signs with a deep blue background and the yellow stars of the E.U. with the respective name of the country mark its territory. Now, we can pass effortlessly through national borders without having to wait.

But the good times seem to have passed. 

First, Germany on Sunday decided to temporarily reintroduce border controls.

On Monday, Austria followed suit.

Both decisions were born of necessity, since both countries are having to shoulder most of the burden of the massive movement of refugees in central Europe more or less on their own.

It’s an attempt at a balancing act of maintaining order while respecting humanitarian needs, said Austria’s chancellor, Werner Faymann, going straight to the point. That’s why no alternative exists at the moment to temporary border controls and even border closings.

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