A Threshold? Germany Enforces Border Controls

By Geerte Verduijn

This step has become necessary.” Where Germany’s leaders recently offered refugees arriving from Eastern Europe the ability to travel freely across its borders, last Sunday Thomas de Maizière announced the end of this era. Border controls were carried out immediately after German officials claimed that the amount of refugees had ‘stretched the system to breaking point.’ The term ‘’breaking point’’ in this context instantly reminds of the causal theory of threshold effects. According to Paul Pierson, in certain processes tension can gradually increase until a certain boiling point is met, with changes being completely non-linear from then on.

However, is Germany’s recently unstable refugee-policy indeed substantially affected by such a threshold? And if so, is this a boiling point that was fixed or could its limits have been higher, postponed, maybe even prevented? Imagine that, instead of Viktor Orbán stating that ‘the migration crisis is a German problem, not a European problem’ more countries had followed Germany’s example – what would have happened? Or, if it is true that Germany’s decision is ‘supposed to discourage refugees from rushing toward Germany,’ could this have been accomplished in other ways?

Though my knowledge about Germany’s economic and political situation is too basic to know whether this decision is justified, the decision has at least one clear result: last Sunday, Germany ‘sparked a domino effect of border closures’ in Europe. If a threshold is predetermined, it is difficult to argue that all European countries following Germany’s example met their individual boiling points simultaneously. Was this mass-movement of border control indeed the inevitable result of a threshold being met last weekend, or was it more of a useful political term, arbitrarily created by politicians and media reports? In other words, if we were to look back at the decisions made this week in several years, which theory would we need to apply to indeed confirm the necessity of Germany’s decision?