Imagine a large group of German citizens wants to stop Germany from accepting refugees.

Are there any legal options for them to enact this?

Can they, for example,

  1. initiate a referendum on whether or not the borders should be closed for foreigners, who don't satisfy some criteria (like skill in a profession in demand, certain level of education), or
  2. make the parliament discuss the issue via the Austrian popular ballot mechanism (Volksbegehren in German, if enough people sign a petition, the parliament is obligated to discuss the issue)


If yes, what are such options (ideally with references to corresponding laws) ?

Note that I'm interested in this question from a purely technical (legal) point of view. I'm not interested in whether it's moral or not to close the borders.

2 Answers 2


Article 23 of the Schengen Border Code gives the criteria by which a Member State can temporarily close its borders.

There are a bunch of caveats but it effectively says that, at most, they can be closed for a maximum of 2 years under extreme circumstances.

It follows from the regulations that popular support for closure could possibly convince the German government to suspend the borders for a few days. For longer however, there would need to be agreement from the European Council.

I can't find any mechanism other than either Treaty change or leaving the EU that would allow for permanent closure.

  • Thanks for an excellent answer. Do you know whether there are any clauses, which may allow the closure of the borders on the "boat is full" basis? That is, every country can accommodate only a finite number of migrants in the same way as you can put only so many people into a passenger car (or a flat). In case of migrants, the upper limit can be estimated, for example, by the number of refugee camps and available "integration facilitators" (such as social workers, German teachers, translators and all other workers, who take care of the migrants).
    – user9558
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 17:59
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    @Franz Drollig I am pretty sure that there aren't any clauses to that effect. It would have been a hugely controversial clause and certainly would have been well publicised. Having said that, it wouldn't surprise me if, in a post Brexit Treaty, there won't be a far more explicit approach to migrants. I don't believe anyone believes the current system is working effectively.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 18:37
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    Does the code prevent a perpetual loop of 2 year closures? Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 20:54
  • @David Grinberg Yes. It specifies up to 4 lots of 6 months each of which needs agreement etc. It doesn't really say what happens if you get to 2 years and still have a problem though.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 15:28
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    @FranzDrollig this answer is incorrect. The Schengen borders code provides for the temporary introduction of border controls at internal borders. It has no bearing whatsoever on the issuance of residence permits, and in particular it does not allow the suspension of freedom of movement for EU citizens. The internal controls are not a closure of the border; they just mean that authorities can start routinely checking passports on the land borders, and for travelers arriving on internal flights, which is normally not allowed. Internal controls don't change the criteria for admission.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 7:59

Currently the German constitution only has referendums for one single issue: changing the borders between the federal states (§29). For any other issue it has no mechanism whatsoever for a referendum or public ballot on the federal level (it is possible on state and communal level, though). So when Germans disagree with the federal government and petitioning their direct parliament members does not help, their only option is to wait until the next election.

A non-government organization which is lobbying for federal level referendums for quite a while now is Mehr Demokratie e.V..

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