- Merkel ally singles out Greek border as Europe's weakest link
- Trade-dependent German businesses fret over border controls
Germany stepped up pressure on Greece to ward off refugees heading to Europe, as the threat of extended border restrictions north of the Alps stokes unease among export-oriented German businesses.
Greece, in the midst of talks with German-led creditors over more bailout loans, remained the focus of suspicions that it is unable to keep refugees out and all too eager to send them on to wealthier countries in northern Europe.
“Securing the European Union’s outer borders is the right approach, but Greece has to accept help,” Michael Grosse-Broemer, parliamentary whip of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party bloc, told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday. “Germany remains ready to assist.”
Concern about the potential impact on commerce was magnified on Monday when Germany and its neighbors laid the groundwork to extend the current six-month reintroduction of passport screening at inner-European borders for as many as two years. Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France, Austria and Norway -- a non-EU country that takes part in the passport-free travel system -- have resorted to temporary controls.
Germany’s small and mid-size companies are “concerned that borders in the EU will be closed,” Grosse-Broemer said. Closing off Germany, which has land borders with nine countries, would be “painful” for Europe’s biggest economy since “as an exporting nation, Germany in particular benefits from open borders,” Ulrich Grillo, head of the country’s BDI industry federation, told the Rheinische Post newspaper last week.
Europeans have come to see no-passport travel between 26 countries -- Britain and Ireland are the main outsiders -- as an entitlement. Prolonged controls, though not at all borders or of all passengers, would mark a victory for nationalist politicians who deride the EU as unable to protect its people.
Germany’s authorization to stop incoming traffic, mainly on the Austrian border, lapses in May. At an EU meeting in Amsterdam on Monday, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said time is running out to save the passport-free system in its current form.
“We need a lasting, noticeable and clear reduction of the number of refugees to Europe and to Germany within the next few weeks,” de Maiziere said.
Greece, the gateway to Europe for refugees from the Middle East, argues that wealthier European countries have let it down by providing smaller-than-promised numbers of everything from cots and fingerprinting machines to border guards.
“There’s a big and unfair blame game against Greece,” Ioannis Mouzalas, the Greek minister for migration, said at the Amsterdam meeting.