Subjecting travelers from Greece to strict passport controls at German airports is a harsh measure that ought to worry anyone concerned about Europe’s future. Our German partners have chosen to make an example of us, to show a domestic audience that they can place German interests above collegiality and solidarity with another EU member-state.
This is the result of a process that began at the start of the Greek economic crisis. Greece’s dysfunctional public administration, the rise of the extreme right in Germany, the weaknesses of EU policies, which allowed (or forced) member-states to improvise, all played a role. It is ironic, though, that Germany chose to show its force on an issue in which the Greeks had cooperated as much as they could – the management of the mass influx of refugees and immigrants.
The Greek government has protested to Berlin but its tone has been subdued. Athens believes the measure is related to negotiations for the formation of a coalition government, as it was clear before September’s elections that the rise of Alternative for Germany (AfD) was pushing the entire political system to the right. We expected a tougher line on managing Greece’s debt crisis and stiff opposition to greater economic and political integration in the EU, but targeting travelers from Greece is crude and hypocritical.
No one knows Greece’s weaknesses better than the Greeks, who have to live with them. On the migration issue, though, our country cooperated with Germany and other European countries within the EU framework. The problem is too great for any one country to handle on its own. As it turned out, it is also too big for the EU – it demands perfect coordination, cooperation and trust between all involved countries. At its most basic level with regard to European principles, Greece, with the selfless efforts of many Greeks and foreign volunteers, did what it could to help people, to save lives, to offer hope. From the moment that desperate people set off from Turkey for our shores, there was no way of stopping them with violence. The flow ebbed only when our partners in the EU and NATO joined in patrols and in processing arrivals, and when the EU-Turkey deal was signed in March 2016.
Greece was now obliged to keep new arrivals in hot spots and send back to Turkey those not eligible for protection. The overcrowded hot spots are inhuman, causing grave problems both for those housed there and for local communities, but they deter new arrivals. Migrants must stay on the islands despite the difficulties because their transfer to the mainland would send a wrong message and create a new wave of arrivals, the European Commission vice president, Frans Timmermans said in a recent interview with Kathimerini’s Eleni Varvitsioti. On November 9 the islands’ facilities held 15,169 people and since the start of the deal only 1,969 had been sent back to Turkey, mainly because of slow legal procedures.
If we consider that some Balkan and Central European countries set up fences (to the unspoken relief of Germany and Austria) and refused to host their fair share of people, then Greece’s weaknesses seem like a petty offense compared to others’ hypocrisy.
And yet, the argument that some 1,000 people arrived at German airports from Greece without Schengen paperwork (Greece contests the number) was enough for Germany to impose third country procedures on all travelers from Greece. Maybe it is time for the Germans to consider seriously whether they really do believe in the EU and its principles. Maybe Chancellor Angela Merkel should consider whether it is worth changing position now and insulting the people who, two years ago, helped her defend European principles.