Here are five reasons that Germany really decided to temporarily suspend the Schengen treaty, which ensures free movement in 26 European countries, 22 of which belong to the European Union.
It's a warning shot ahead of Monday's E.U. talks
On Monday, E.U. leaders are expected to agree on or dismiss a plan to allocate 160,000 refugees fairly across all European Union member states. Several countries, including Poland and the Czech Republic, are staunchly opposed to accepting more refugees. The decision could have far-reaching consequences for the Czech Republic, in particular.
Refugees unable to cross into Germany from Austria might decide to make a detour through Prague. “Germany is facing up to its responsibilities, but the burden has to be spread in solidarity,” Germany's interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, said in a news conference Sunday.
Berlin wants Eastern Europe to accept more refugees
German authorities have said they might expand controls to the Czech-German border, which would trap thousands of refugees in the Czech Republic. In other words, border controls could also be seen as a threat toward Eastern European nations: Accept refugees as part of an organized E.U. effort, or deal with a much more chaotic influx of refugees who are stuck between the eastern E.U. borders and wealthier countries, such as Germany or Sweden.
What's particularly ironic is that although Hungary has applauded Germany for controlling its border with Austria, the decision could, in fact, cause more problems in Eastern Europe. Austria, which is expecting the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees on Monday alone and has already mobilized its military to support civilian volunteers, will not be able to cope with the influx much longer. That will leave refugees with the options of staying in Hungary or trying a different route farther north.
Germany has made clear that the controls are supposed to be temporary and do not represent a border closure. Police officers are conducting stop-and-search patrols in the border region but do not inspect all traffic.
Germany is overwhelmed and needs more time
There not only are divisions within Europe, but also within Germany: On Monday, Germany's vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, said he now expects up to 1 million refugees to reach the country by the end of this year. Just two months ago, Germany was expecting only 400,000 people.
Given the dramatic increase, German cities and local councils that are responsible for accommodating the refugees had little time to prepare. Many migrants are being housed in tents and will have to be relocated before winter starts.
Moreover, housing prices in German cities are already rising because of an extremely low ratio of available units. German authorities are searching for unoccupied houses that could be used as reception centers, but German regulations slow down the process. In another sign that Germany might be overthinking its current reaction to the refugee crisis, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) announced Monday that it was considering passing the country's first immigration law to provide clearer guidelines and speed up the administrative processes -- a step opposition parties have long demanded.
Suspending the Schengen treaty is the only legal and feasible way to reduce the influx
Being able to seek asylum is a fundamental right in the European Union. Hence, Germany has only three options at the moment: It can violate the law, send refugees back into the E.U. countries where they first arrived, or make it harder for refugees to reach Germany until authorities are better prepared to handle the influx.
Given that first-arrival countries such as Greece are increasingly unable to deal with the crisis, sending refugees back did not seem like an option to the German government. Suspending the Schengen treaty is legal, according to E.U. law, if the free movement threatens national security. That's the argument Interior Minister de Maiziere used to defend the decision.
Merkel is trying to soothe her Bavarian coalition partner
Apart from sending signals abroad, Merkel might also be trying to balance the interests of her southern German coalition partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is the strongest party in Bavaria, a state close to the Austrian border.
Compared to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the CSU tends to be more conservative and less supportive of accommodating refugees.