Back in September, when Berlin and Brussels were busy devising a quota plan to settle the millions of Mid-East asylum seekers flooding into the country, Slovakia said that if Germany called for financial penalties against countries unwilling to accommodate their “share” of migrants, it would be “the end of the EU.”
That might have seemed hyperbolic at the time, but since then, the situation has spiraled out of control. Border fences have been erected, refugee camps are overflowing, and anti-migrant sentiment is running high after a series of reported sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve sparked a bloc-wide scandal.
In a testament to just how tense things have become, Austria suspended Schengen on Saturday as new rules came into effect for those seeking to traverse the country on the way north. “Anyone who arrives at our border is subject to control,” Chancellor Werner Faymann said. “If the EU does not manage to secure the external borders, Schengen as a whole is put into question... Then each country must control its national borders,” he added, before warning that if the EU could not better control its external borders “the whole EU [will be] in question.”
Indeed, the idea that the worsening migrant crisis could well bring an end to the EU has made its way out of Eurosceptic circles and into discussions between the bloc's top diplomats and officials.
"The Germans, founders of the postwar union, shut their borders to refugees in a bid for political survival by the chancellor who let in a million migrants," Reuters wrote on Sunday, describing a hypothetical European endgame. "And then -- why not? -- they decide to revive the Deutschmark while they're at it."
Both Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker were out last week with stark warnings about the prospects for the union's survival in the face of widespread disagreement among member countries regarding how to handle the influx of asylum seekers. Europe is now "vulnerable" Merkel admitted, before saying the fate of the euro is "directly linked" to how the bloc handles the refugee crisis. "Nobody should act as though you can have a common currency without being able to cross borders reasonably easily," the Chancellor, whose ratings have slipped amid the migrant debate, said at a business event in Mainz.
Juncker's assessment was more dire. Europe "is on its last chance" he warned, before saying he hopes this isn't "the beginning of the end."
"Some see that as mere scare tactics aimed at fellow Europeans by leaders with too much to lose from an EU collapse," Reuters continues. "[But] empty threat or no, with efforts to engage Turkey's help showing little sign yet of preventing migrants reaching Greek beaches, German and EU officials are warning that without a sharp drop in arrivals or a change of heart in other EU states to relieve Berlin of the lonely task of housing refugees, Germany could shut its doors, sparking wider crisis this spring."
Make no mistake, were Germany to stop accepting refugees, a dangerous chain of events would unfold just as warmer weather makes the journey more appealing for refugees. Arrivals have not slowed during the winter months, a senior conservative German lawmaker said. "You can only imagine what happens when the weather improves." If Germany's open-door slams shut in the spring, millions of asylum seekers would be stuck along the Balkan route where bottlenecks led to border clashes between Hungarian riot police and migrants last year.
Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia are in no position to accommodate the influx. Indeed, Slovenian officials have long said that the only reason the tiny country has been able to cope is because just as many migrants leave each day on their way to Germany and Austria as enter via Croatia. On Monday, Slovenian PM Miro Cerar said that "if Germany or Austria adopt certain measures for stricter controls then of course we will adopt similar strict measures with our southern border with Croatia."
"Millions, and I stress millions of migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Algeria, Morocco are ready to enter the EU once the weather improves in the coming months," he cautioned.
The EU Commission sought to play down Austria's implementation of border controls, saying it's "nothing out of the ordinary." Of course any emergency measure is "out of the ordinary" by definition. Border checks will continue until at least February.
Meanwhile, each passing day seems to present a new reason for Europeans to become increasingly disaffected with officials' handling of the crisis. Two days ago for instance, German FinMin Wolfgang Schaeuble proposed a bloc-wide petrol tax to fund the cost of securing the EU's external borders. While Europeans will surely support the notion that the EU needs to better secure the chokepoints through which the majority of asylum seekers enter, migrants will now be equated with higher prices as the pump just as they are becoming synonymous with terror and sexual assaults.
Ultimately, it appears that Germany is beginning to crack. While Merkel has been careful to preserve the "yes we can" narrative, reality is setting in and the cold facts suggest that Europe simply cannot accommodate the people flows. It now appears that it is not a matter of "if" but rather "when" the Iron Chancellor finally gives in and shuts the doors, and on that note, we'll close with two quotes from German and EU officials who spoke to Reuters "in private."
"We have until March, the summer maybe, for a European solution. Then Schengen goes down the drain."
"There is a big risk that Germany closes. From that, no Schengen ... There is a risk that February could start a countdown to the end."