Stemming the Flow Berlin Hunts for Back-Up Plan in Refugee Crisis 

Officially, the German government wants a Europe-wide solution to the Continent's mounting refugee problem. Behind the scenes, though, Berlin is searching for a Plan B to solve the crisis. Is the country moving closer to closing its borders?

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Refugees and police at the border between Slovenia and Croatia: Germany and Austria are both exploring ways to reduce the number of migrants entering their countries through the Balkans.

Refugees and police at the border between Slovenia and Croatia: Germany and Austria are both exploring ways to reduce the number of migrants entering their countries through the Balkans.

Sometimes, the greatest changes are announced very quietly. Each Thursday, representatives of the countries located along the refugee route that crosses the Balkans meet by video conference for a briefing on the current situation. Are there sufficient accommodations in Greece? Are there enough heated tents in Croatia. There are numerous organizational and administrative questions, and the whole affair has an almost routine feel to it.

Participating in the group on Germany's behalf is Uwe Corsepius, Chancellor Angela Merkel's European policy advisor. Last Thursday, he and his colleagues from Austria and Slovenia informed the others first talks were being conducted about, among other things, finding ways to better control Slovenia's borders.

That may not sound like much, but was nothing less than an announcement that Germany was making a strategic shift in its refugee policies. Merkel has been insistent that a European solution needs to be found for the crisis. But asked what this "European solution" might look like, officials are giving a different answer these days than they used to.

Previously, the official German position had been that refugees should be stopped at the European Union's external borders in Greece and Italy. The plan had been to open up large initial reception centers, so-called hotspots, where refugees would be registered and a decision made on their possible redistribution to other European countries. Merkel says she is still pursuing this plan.

The problem is that the opening of the hotspots is moving ahead extremely slowly. Greece in particular, the country through which most refugees are currently traveling to the European Union, isn't adhering to its obligations. It's one of the main reasons the number of refugees has not dropped in Germany to a degree that might reduce political pressure on Merkel.

'Not Helpful'

Instead, the opposite is happening. With its announcement that it wants to cap the number of refugees entering into Austria at 37,500 in 2016, Merkel has been pushed even further onto the defensive. The development "is not helpful," the German chancellor admitted on Wednesday at a meeting CSU state parliamentarians in Bavaria. The CSU is the sister party of Merkel's CDU.

Graphic: Moving the Schengen border north.

Graphic: Moving the Schengen border north.

With the number of allies supporting Germany's approach in Europe shrinking, staff in Merkel's Chancellery are currently working on a Plan B, one that the CSU has been the most vehement in demanding. Officially, Merkel is denying the existence of any such plan. She doesn't want to create the impression that she is buckling under pressure from CSU head and Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer, whose state, which shares a border with Austria, is feeling the brunt of the influx of refugees. But the government is nevertheless pursuing a Plan B, even if it looks a little different from the one envisioned by the CSU.

The chancellor continues to reject the setting an upper ceiling on refugees and imposing the strict border controls Seehofer is demanding. Merkel is concerned that doing so would mean the end of the Schengen zone of border-free travel within much of the EU. But there may also be a more elegant solution, one that was first introduced by the Austrian government.

Pushing Schengen North

The idea foresees Slovenia playing a key role -- as the first country after Greece along the West Balkan route that has an external Schengen border. The plan would envision stopping all migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Africa there. A growing number of migrants from these regions have been using the West Balkan route to get to Germany, despite the