Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem warned Friday that a small group of EU countries may be forced to form a “mini-Schengen” if the bloc fails to resolve its migrant crisis.
”I really don't wish to have that. Such a step would have negative political and economic consequences for us all,” he told German business newspaper Handelsblatt of the possibility of reducing the 26-member passport-free Schengen zone to a core group of just five or six countries.
But Dijsselbloem argued that “we cannot maintain our social welfare state in the long term if the influx of asylum seekers goes on like that”.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa have travelled to Europe, mostly via Greece and along the so-called Balkans route to northern Europe.
The crisis has strained ties within the EU, with mostly newer members such as Hungary taking a firmly anti-migrant stance and northern countries like Germany welcoming those fleeing war.
Urging member states to shoulder their fair share of the migrant burden, Dijsselbloem warned: ”If the EU fails to better secure its external borders, then a smaller group of countries will do so. Because we must protect our society and our high social standards.”
”Then that could be a mini-Schengen, even if that's without a doubt not the best solution,” warned Dijsselbloem.
”Several countries are paying a bigger bill for the migrant crisis as they are hosting the migrants. These are Sweden, Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. We are in the same situation, that's why we want to work more closely together,” said Dijsselbloem, who is also the Netherlands' finance minister, in a separate interview with Belgian newspaper L'Echo.
The Netherlands is taking over the EU presidency next year, and Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders has said Europe must work to keep the dream of Schengen alive.
Beyond the issues surrounding the record numbers of migrants arriving in the EU, there are growing concerns about border security in the wake of the November 13 jihadist attacks in Paris that claimed 130 lives.
Last week the European Union agreed to rush through reforms to the Schengen zone by the end of the year in the wake of the atrocities carried out by the Islamic State group.
The plan would reform the Schengen border code “to allow systematic and obligatory checks at all external borders for all travellers, including those who benefit from free movement,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said last Friday.