To Austria, Avramopoulos stressed that “lonely initiatives do not lead anywhere.” Despite the scoldings, Austria is continuing its initiative to bring the 10 countries of the Balkan route together into separate, regional coordination against Germany’s position.
Vienna’s 29-year-old foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, said that Europe should “abandon this goal of allowing unlimited numbers,” and his colleague, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, has raised the possibility of throwing Greece out of the Schengen area “if it is not able to protect” the external borders.
Merkel is also taking flak from inside her own cabinet. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, the most critical of his boss, said, “If a solution by the 7th of March is not possible, there have to be other European and coordinated measures.” The German government fears the arrival of an additional 3.5 million migrants to Europe by 2020.
The European Union, then, is in the hands of Turkey, which, by virtue of the €3.3 billion promised is supposed — but does not know how — to stop the flow. On Thursday, during the meeting of the E.U.’s 28 interior ministers, their Turkish counterpart was invited as a listener for the first time, to reaffirm the country’s strategic role in saving Europe from its inability to distribute refugees among its members. (UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, continues to point to resettlement quotas as a solution, along with safe humanitarian corridors.)
Orban says giving this role to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is dangerous, and “an illusion.” To de Maizière, there’s “still hope.” The Dutch security and justice secretary Klaas Kijkhoff (the Netherlands has the E.U. presidency) wants to make one last appeal before the summer. Following news that seven countries had temporarily instituted border controls, Luxembourg Minister Jean Asselborn said, “We are heading into anarchy. Our credibility is in doubt, and that is very bad for Schengen and the European Union.”
The strengthening of the Turkish “plug” was expected; so was the use of NATO. NATO members met Thursday to agree on operations against migrant smugglers in the Aegean Sea, with a goal of being operational by March 7. Given the historical tensions between Greece and Turkey, the intervention of NATO ships, along with Frontex, could facilitate the recovery of survivors. Meeting into the night, the sides discussed how soldiers would intervene without crossing territorial waters and return survivors to the country they came from, namely Turkey.
But NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made clear that “NATO’s task is not to turn back the boats.” They’ll only take action to rescue vessels in emergencies.