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15th Dec 2019

Commission: German transit zones only temporary

  • Refugees in Vienna. Germany plans transit zone along its border with Austria. (Photo: Josh Zakary)

German government plans to establish transit zones for registering people seeking protection will have to be temporary and can only lead to a limited reintroduction of border checks, the European Commission said on Tuesday (13 October).

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, under pressure from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of her Christian Democrats (CDU), is mulling the idea of setting up transit zones along the German border.

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The idea, opposed by Merkel’s coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), is that the transit zones would facilitate the processing of migrants who are coming from safe countries, and are therefore not in need of international protection.

That way Germany could speed up asylum and extradition procedures for economic migrants from southeastern Europe, such as Kosovo and Albania, and focus on war refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We're still in talks,” Angela Merkel said on Monday according to Reuters, referring to strong reservations among the SPD.

The EU Commission on Tuesday said that while transit zones along the internal borders of the EU are not explicitly against EU law, they will have limitations.

“Such transit zones could only be exceptional measures for a limited amount of time,” EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Tuesday.

"Transit zones are not entirely unknown, as they help manage the movement of people in airports", Schinas said, adding: “They make sense at external borders.”

For transit zones to work along the border of Germany - the favourite destination for migrants and refugees that is expecting over a million people to arrive this year - it will have to reinstate temporary border controls in line with EU law.

According to EU rules, temporary and proportionate border checks within the Schengen visa-free zone can be reintroduced for an initial 10 days, which can be extended for 20 days, and for a maximum of three months.

Germany, Austria and Slovenia have already have border checks back in place to deal with the influx of migrants making their way via Greece and the Balkan countries.

The Commission needs to check if this measure is proportional. The EU executive said the assessment is expected to be ready “very soon.”

Germany already notified the European Commission on 9 October that border checks would be prolonged for a further 20 days.

The Commission said it is in talks with Berlin about the specific legal and practical limitations of transit zones, and how they can actually help the current situation.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had a phonecall with Merkel to discuss the idea.

Merkel is also under pressure from Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer from CSU, whose support in the polls has been on the increase, and who blames Merkel for the scale of the refugee crisis in Germany.

Seehofer also threatened to challenge Merkel’s open door policy in Germany’s Constitutional Court last week.

An estimated 170,000 migrants arrived in Bavaria alone last month.

Turkey talks

EU Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, along with Johannes Hahn, commissioner for neighbourhood policy, and Dimitris Avramopoulos, commissioner for migration, will travel to Ankara on Wednesday.

They will discuss the so-called Action Plan, an EU “wish list” for Turkey to help stem the flow of refugees.

The commission said they already have technical teams in the Turkish capital to hammer out the details of the plan that principally asks Turkey for better protection of the EU’s external borders, and better conditions for migrants in Turkey in exchange for more aid.

An EU official said there is no agreement on the Action Plan yet between the EU and Turkey. “There was not one point in that plan that the Turks liked,” the source said, describing last week’s meeting among EU leaders and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Chancellor Merkel will also travel to Turkey next Sunday to continue the discussions.

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