Austria gives Greece fresh Schengen warning, Germany protests
(BERLIN) - Greece faced fresh pressure Saturday over its handling of the migrant crisis after Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner warned that Athens faced "temporary exclusion" from the EU's passport-free Schengen zone.
European powerhouse Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier lashed out meanwhile at the warning, branding it a "pseudo-solution".
This week Greece slammed a Financial Times report saying several European ministers and senior EU officials believed threatening suspension from Schengen could persuade Greece to protect its borders more effectively.
Junior interior minister for migration Yiannis Mouzalas said the report contained "falsehoods and distortions" but Mikl-Leitner said temporary exclusion was a real possibility.
"If the Athens government does not finally do more to secure the (EU's) external borders then one must openly discuss Greece's temporary exclusion from the Schengen zone," Mikl-Leitner said in an interview with German daily Die Welt.
"It is a myth that the Greco-Turkish border cannot be controlled," Mikl-Leitner said.
"When a Schengen signatory does not permanently fulfil its obligations and only hesitatingly accepts aid then we should not rule out that possibility," she added.
"The patience of many Europeans has reached its limit ... We have talked a lot, now we must act. It is about protecting stability, order and security in Europe."
Germany's Steinmeier criticised Vienna's warning however.
"There won't be any solution to the refugee crisis if solidarity disappears," he said.
"On the contrary, we must work together and concentrate all our efforts to fight against the causes that are pushing the refugees into flight, to reinforce the EU's outer borders and to achieve a fair redistribution (of asylum seekers) within Europe."
- 'Make or break' -
Cash-strapped Greece has been under fire for months from its EU partners over its attempts to manage the largest flow of migrants in decades as hundreds of thousands flee war and repression.
Of over a million refugees and migrants who reached Europe's shores last year, the vast majority first entered the continent through Greece after perilous sea voyages from Turkey before heading north, with many hoping for a new life in Germany.
International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde added her voice to Schengen concerns.
"The refugee crisis is a bit of a make or break, from my personal perspective," Lagarde said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. Asked if it endangered Schengen, she said: "Yes, I think so."
The EU last month ruled out excluding Greece from Schengen, with Luxembourg's Minister of Immigration Jean Asselborn observing that "it is not legally possible to exclude a state from the Schengen zone."
But the issue came to the fore once again with Wednesday's FT report.
But a spokesman for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras denied the EU made any threat to that effect.