The Irish Times view on Angela Merkel’s problems: the free-travel zone is under threat

For much of Europe, fears of a hard border in Ireland tomorrow pale in comparison to fears of hard borders across the continent today

Germany chancellor Angela Merkel with Hungary’s far-right prime minister Viktor Orban.  Migration, as Merkel repeats now on a daily basis, is the issue on which the EU’s fate rests. Photograph:  Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

Germany chancellor Angela Merkel with Hungary’s far-right prime minister Viktor Orban. Migration, as Merkel repeats now on a daily basis, is the issue on which the EU’s fate rests. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

 

It’s a worrying sign of the times when Chancellor Angela Merkel’s talks yesterday afternoon with Theresa May on Brexit are viewed in Berlin as light relief.

After a punishing fortnight, and yet another crisis meeting, the German leader struck an eleventh-hour migration deal on Monday with her rebellious Bavarian allies. Faced with the collapse of her centre-right CDU/CSU political alliance, her coalition and her grip on power, Angela Merkel stared into the abyss – and blinked.

She agreed to three so-called “transit centres” on Germany’s border for expedited processing of so-called “secondary migrants”. If possible, they will be refused entry to Germany and returned to the EU country where they first filed for asylum. The “transit camp” proposal still has to clear a legal hurdle – European Commission lawyers – and a political hurdle: Dr Merkel’s wary Social Democratic Party (SPD) coalition partner.

The text of Monday night’s agreement insists it will not be implemented unilaterally by Germany, but on the basis of bilateral agreements with affected countries. Germany’s partners – in particular Austria – are underwhelmed at the chance of negotiating now the details of something Berlin has already agreed with Bavaria.

If all goes ahead, massive closed camps will be erected at three Bavarian border crossings to Austria, to contain the trickle of people who choose to seek asylum at these precise points. What happens at the rest of the soft German-Austrian border – all 819km of it – is not clear. That this is symbol politics is clear: there are no plans to open centres on Germany’s eight other borders, not even in Schleswig-Holstein, 1,000km to the north, where migrants refused asylum in Denmark and Sweden are now returning.

Europe is once again held hostage by Germany and its relentless regional election schedule. On October 14th, if the Bavarian CSU’s migration muscle-flexing fails to return its absolute majority in the Munich state parliament, expect another destabilising shudder similar to that now spreading. Within hours of Monday’s announcement, Austria and Italy led the way in announcing border controls. If more follow, the fundamental principle of free travel in Europe is threatened.

The only hope is that Germany’s migration standoff will concentrate the minds of EU leaders. Migration, as Merkel repeats on a daily basis, is the issue on which the EU’s fate rests. Even those far away from the migration front lines, who use geography or history as an excuse for not getting involved, will eventually feel the effects.

As Leo Varadkar witnessed last week in Brussels, an EU gripped by a migration crisis has limited attention or capacity to deal with other issues. For the rest of Europe, fears of a hard border in Ireland tomorrow pale in comparison to fears of hard borders across the continent today.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.