The Schengen system of free movement could be suspended for two years under emergency measures to be discussed by European ministers on Monday, as the French Prime Minister warned the crisis could bring down the entire European Union.
Manuel Valls said that the “very idea of Europe” will be torn apart until the flows of migrants expected to surge in spring are turned away.
On Monday, interior ministers from the EU will meet in Amsterdam to discuss emergency measures to allow states to reintroduce national border controls for two years.
The powers are allowed under the Schengen rules, but would amount to an unprecedented abandonment of the 30-year old agreement that allows passport-free travel across 26 states.
The measure could be brought in from May, when a six-month period of passport checks introduced by Germany expires. The European Commission would have to agree that there are “persistent serious deficiencies” in the Schengen zone’s external border to activate it.
“This possibility exists, it is there and the Commission is prepared to use it if need be,” said Natasha Bertaud, a spokesman for Jean-Claude Juncker.
Greece has been blamed by states for failing to identify and register hundreds of thousands of people flowing over its borders.
Other states that have introduced emergency controls are Sweden, Austria, France, Denmark and Norway, which is not in the EU but is in Schengen.
“We’re not currently in that situation,” Ms Bertaud added. “But interior ministers will on Monday in Amsterdam have the opportunity to discuss and it’s on the agenda what steps should be taken or will need to be taken once we near the end of the maximum period in May.”
Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, will attend the meeting.