Recently there have been a number of talks in the European Union about the possibility of suspending the Schengen agreement that allows freedom of movement between national states.
The immigration crisis has led to the talks which are now questioning the passport free travel zone which applies across 26 countries (the Schengen area). The open borders could be suspended for up to two years if there is no change in the influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa. Shorter-term dispensations for border controls end in May. The free travel rules have been strained with many asylum seekers moving into Europe through Greece to Germany and other north European countries. There have been several examples of attempts by nations to block the movement of migrants across Europe. Domestic opinion is the main reason for the suspension of passport free borders. There has been a nationalistic view which could affect Schengen, the euro and perhaps even the European Union as well. Several former East European countries, and others, have been vocal in not accepting “too many” refugees.
Greece has been at the forefront of the routes into Europe from the Middle East in particular. Part of the problem with Schengen is that the inability to control external borders has pushed the problem of immigration towards the centre of Europe. Initially Hungary was quick to re-erect border fences to keep migrants out. Hungary was doing this a few years ago. This had the impact of diverting the routes used by migrants to other countries such as Slovenia, Macedonia and Croatia: migrants simply went around the barriers. Greece has also been criticised for not protecting the borders around it and in particular its border with Turkey. The EU are now threatening to remove Greece from the Schengen area so that border controls will have to be imposed again. Greece has been given three months to impose better border controls.
Some countries such as Germany, Austria and Sweden have put in place temporary controls at specific frontiers to deal with the refugee flows. This has impacted the free flow of trade and slowed border crossings.
The context of the talks are the fact that the flow of migrants is not slowing. Some reports, such as this Guardian article, show a 20 fold increase over the last year. If anything the numbers are still increasing despite efforts to contain many thousand in Turkey for example. Germany is under internal political pressure to reduce numbers coming to that country.
In mid-February Greece has been given three months to fix its border controls (see this BBC report). It is likely that other temporary border checks will also be extended beyond this May.
There are likely to be several implications of these changes to the Schengen area: whether they are with Greece, wider European integration or on day to day travel and trade. There may be impacts to the euro currency and perhaps the flow of migration. That is very much subject to wider talks and getting a peaceful resolution to the war in Syria and the wider area. It is likely that it will be a while before the fallout will be fully appreciated.