In light of Europe’s refugee crisis and recent cross-border terrorist activity, our experts assess whether the EU’s Schengen Area, in which participating states have abolished border controls, should be dismantled.
Unless Europe rediscovers a sense of common purpose and the resolve to act in support thereof, the Schengen Area is unlikely to survive 2016. Three developments are converging to kill what is perhaps the most visible day-to-day sign of European integration.
Three developments are converging to kill #Schengen.Tweet This
First is the rising tide of organized burglary in the northern members of the Schengen Area. As police chiefs from Hamburg to Geneva will tell you, criminal bands, largely of Eastern and Southeastern European origin, are taking advantage of open borders to plan and execute large-scale raids on communities that often are unaware of what has transpired before the convoy of loot-laden trucks has escaped beyond the border.
Second, Europe’s refugee crisis has taken on such dimensions that even traditionally tolerant populations increasingly are unnerved. In Germany, where up to 800,000 refugees are expected by year’s end, calls to secure the borders with Southern Europe are growing louder by the day.
Third, the problem is made more serious by the fact that radical Islamists are likely to travel among the refugees, posing an increasing threat to soft targets, as was seen on August 21 in the attack on a Thalys train in France.
Would the reimposition of border controls be enough to stem the tide of crime, illegal immigration, refugees, and terror? The hard fact is that unless Europe can devise a way to project stability beyond its borders, it will be condemned to importing instability within.
The euro and the Schengen zone have been two of the EU’s most tangible and widely recognizable achievements. Now, both are faced with considerable, even existential, challenges.
#Schengen is faced with considerable, even existential, challenges.Tweet This
The concept of a border-free Europe is being tested by the evolving migration and refugee crisis, with an extremely high number of people from Syria and other conflict regions trying to cross into European countries (mainly Greece and Italy) in an attempt to seek asylum in their final destination country in Northern Europe. The limited enthusiasm of most EU states—with the notable exceptions of Germany and Sweden—to undertake any commitments in the context of a burden-sharing agreement promoted by the European Commission is once more testing the limits of European solidarity and the idea of common European policies.
An additional concern about radical individuals entering Europe disguised as refugees complicates the situation even further at a time of increasing radicalization of societies in some EU countries and rising xenophobia or Islamophobia in others. Schengen, and the whole European experiment, will soon be dead unless Europeans act on the basis of the assumption that “we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
In the meantime, the fighting in Syria should stop. Talk to the Iranians and the Russians ASAP.
The Schengen Agreement shares a number of features with the eurozone. Like the euro, Schengen has proved to be poor at attaining some of its core objectives when put to the test. That has led to economic and social divergence in the case of the euro, and political divergence and humanitarian failure in the case of the movement of large numbers of human beings.
#Schengen has proved poor at attaining some of its core objectives.Tweet This
Unlike in the eurozone, there is as yet no sign that supranational institutions akin to the European Central Bank and the European Stability Mechanism will be set up to allow Schengen to function under stress. And whereas the single currency continues to enjoy majority support, immigration is a hot-button issue.
So Europe is getting the worst of all worlds. On the one hand is the rise of populism, fueled by the impression of powerlessness as refugees from the Levant, Eritrea, and the Sahel cross the sea in their hundreds of thousands—a perception worsened by the fear of cross-border terrorism.
And on the other hand is the EU’s abject failure to provide even the most basic humanitarian assistance and personal status to these desperate people, who are as deserving of full asylum status and support as the refugees of the Western Balkans twenty years ago.
If Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon have been able to provide a haven of sorts to millions of refugees with the assistance of the UN refugee agency, the relatively more affluent EU has no excuse for its failures. Some EU nations, such as Sweden and Germany along with Greece and Italy, are trying hard to act decently. But collectively, the EU is found wanting.
The unresolved euro crisis was the EU’s greatest challenge. What is happening now with the refugee crisis is a bigger challenge because it involves the basic values of the European project. The combination of the two may be lethal to the great ambitions born in the aftermath of World War II.
No, Schengen is not dead, and it cannot be allowed to die. Expanding and protecting the freedom of movement has been one of the European Union’s most substantial accomplishments. To contemplate going back on that would be lunacy.
#Schengen is not dead, and it cannot be allowed to die.Tweet This
What has died, however—and this must be accepted to move forward—is the union’s neighborhood policy. Its failure, combined with the shortcomings of the EU’s foreign and security policy, is in part responsible for the instability on the periphery. Events at Calais, on Lampedusa, and at the Greek-Turkish border are the symptoms of halfhearted and ineffective strategies.
The tools of the Schengen Agreement alone cannot tackle the fallout from the lawlessness in the southeastern Mediterranean. Solidarity, burden sharing, police training, and the allocation of more funds and ships are necessary but will not resolve the problem for the EU.
However insensitive it may sound at a time when people are dying at sea, the deeper problem that the EU has to resolve first is its own serious lack of confidence and leadership, which forces it to remain static and perpetually confused. For as long as EU leaders are guided by their domestic short-termism, they will just end up doing more collective crisis management.
Jean-Claude Juncker and his European Commission will be judged on how they get European heads of government to rethink and then commit to what they actually want for the EU. Only then can the EU decide on how to handle those wanting to come inside.
It is hard to see any recent Islamist ideological violence that has anything to with the Schengen Agreement. The terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004, in London in 2005, in Toulouse in 2012, and in Paris, Brussels, and Copenhagen this year had nothing to do with cross-frontier travel. The same is true of the Irish republicanist ideological violence in the UK in the 1970s.
Frontier controls have never stopped terrorist violence.Tweet This
What Europe needs is a philosophical acceptance that the threat of Salafist, Islamist, and anti-Semitic ideologically motivated violence, often organized at an individual level, is serious and real, as the important new book by Jason Burke, The New Threat From Islamic Militancy, underlines. As Caroline Fourest argues in Eloge du Blasphème, also just out, the Islamist assault is aimed at the freedom of expression and democracy. This new research comes after a long era of trahison des clercs in which Islamism was dismissed as social rejection, not as the serious mobilizing ideology it is.
Putting up barbed wire and having endless lines to cross frontiers is what the Islamists want. Europe needs better surveillance, better penetration, and better cross-border security cooperation. Identity cards in Britain would help, as might spot baggage checks, police on some trains, and advanced passenger information. Frontier controls in themselves have never stopped terrorist violence.
The Schengen Agreement is a powerful expression of European integration and gives practical meaning to the European Union’s principle of the free movement of people. It has proved to be good for Europe’s economy and very convenient for travelers.
Over the past few years, however, Schengen has come under threat as a result of an influx of migrants into the EU as well as a number of terrorist attacks on European soil. There have consequently been calls for Schengen to be abolished. Such a move would be misguided and would represent a step backward for Europe.
Abolishing #Schengen would be misguided and a step backward for Europe.Tweet This
The Schengen Agreement allows signatories to reinstate border controls for a short period for “public policy or national security” reasons, and a number of countries have already done so. This does not mean that the Schengen rules on internal border controls cannot be reviewed, especially when it comes to fighting terrorism, and stricter checks on passengers’ identities and increased data sharing may be necessary.
Ensuring Schengen’s sustainability, however, will require all EU member states to agree to the principle of burden sharing when it comes to accepting asylum seekers. It is not right, and is contrary to the notion of European solidarity, that some countries have to face a sudden massive inflow of migrants without help from the EU as a whole.
Forty years ago, West African countries agreed on legal protocols to allow their citizens to travel and work freely across the region. But it has required the EU—in tandem with Switzerland and three other European states—to start turning these protocols into an orderly regime. Europeans are today transplanting the lessons of their own free movement regime to sub-Saharan Africa.
If this turns out well, the EU will have created the centerpiece in a potential chain of free movement zones stretching from Latin America to the Gulf. These will boost local economies more than trade liberalization can. They will also build the kind of international order Europeans like: civilian border management; cross-border justice systems; counterterrorism cooperation.
If #Schengen dies, so too does the EU's authority in this field.Tweet This
Of course, there’s no guarantee that simply by giving people greater scope to travel in their home regions, the EU will decrease the incidence of disorderly international migration. Nevertheless, the EU is filling a significant international niche with such activities. Moreover, this kind of home affairs diplomacy suits the EU far better than does greedy trade diplomacy or geopolitical wrangling.
If the Schengen Area dies, so too does the EU’s authority in this field.
Recent terrorist acts and Europe’s refugees-and-migrants crisis have prompted a number of political actors to declare the Schengen Agreement dead or to request that it be suspended. When EU-wide issues seemingly become intractable, one jittery reflex is to suggest dumping parts of the body of common EU rules and regulations.
Such proposals do not stand up to simple analysis, for two reasons.
Jihadists and asylum seekers do not care much about #Schengen borders.Tweet This
First, terrorist acts and attempts to cross borders illegally affect both Schengen and non-Schengen countries. Jihadists and asylum seekers do not care much about Schengen borders.
Second, some are now arguing that the August 21 attack—most probably a terrorist act—on a Thalys high-speed train between Amsterdam and Paris would not have been possible on a Eurostar between the continent and the UK because of the security controls on the latter service. This is not quite true: reinforce controls on the Thalys, and terrorists will move to other trains.
The simple reality is that with both terrorism and the large-scale movement of people, there are no quick fixes. These crises are here to stay, and for many years to come they will require a wide array of measures—some at the national level, some at the EU level, and others at the international level.
Pretending that the Schengen Agreement is one of the roots of these crises only serves a different, anti-EU political objective.
Despite Europe’s present, unquestionably severe migration crisis, it would be far too early to bury the Schengen system, for two main reasons.
First, besides border protection, Schengen is also about the free movement of eligible people inside the area. This is an achievement of key importance, and fortunately, it remains unharmed by the present migration crisis.
Second, the vast majority of people who enter the Schengen Area illegally are captured and registered. Hence, the EU’s border protection still functions well, though it clearly needs more resources. The main problem is the situation outside the borders. The bad news is that no reform or abandonment of Schengen would help that. As Libya, the departure point of most migrants coming across the Mediterranean, has ceased to exist as a unified state, there is hardly any place to which the EU could send back the migrants arriving by sea.
Greece does not characterize the whole #Schengen system.Tweet This
Regarding the Western Balkans, the core of the problem lies in the de facto breakdown of the Greek immigration system. Greek refugee camps are already overcrowded, so the authorities reportedly transport illegal migrants en masse through the country to the northern border with Macedonia. This is also the main explanation for the infamous fence being built by the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán along Hungary’s border with Serbia. However, the problem in Greece does not characterize the whole Schengen system.
Giving up Schengen would mean abandoning a well-functioning fortification line, while there are not even shallow trenches behind it. Hence, instead of speculating on the death of Schengen, the EU needs a coordinated answer to reinforce the embattled Schengen peripheries, in terms of both border protection and refugee care.
Europe’s migrant crisis, which has been stewing for some time and has now come to a full boil, is a challenge to all of Europe (and not just the EU). Therefore, a common European strategy is required to deal with this crisis. The easiest solution would be to back down on the Schengen Area and allow the nation-states of Europe to regain control of their own borders.
This course of action, however, would undo sixty years of history. Unfortunately, Europe is still struggling to understand that common problems require common solutions. And in the face of no joint solution, nation-states will attempt to come up with their own (see the wall Hungary is now building on its border with Serbia).
The crisis not only highlights Europe’s inadequate internal response, but it should also be seen as a call for a more robust joint foreign and security policy. The source of these migrants, who are escaping war, Islamic extremism, and poverty, is often not far from Europe’s borders. As always, migrants seek a new life in a place that they see as prosperous and peaceful. So long as there is conflict in neighboring regions, there will be large numbers of refugees heading to Europe. The answer, hence, is not to build a wall to keep them out, but to work out a more proactive foreign policy focused on long-term conflict resolution.
Ending #Schengen would only ignore the source of the problem.Tweet This
This, of course, is not an easy task. Europe itself has been a continent of conflict, and it took centuries before it learned that peace built on the foundations of economic cooperation, democracy, and the rule of law is the only choice for prosperity. One thing is certain, however. Ending Schengen would only ignore the source of the problem, forcing member states to come up with their own solutions and ultimately moving Europe many steps backward.
The #Schengen Area is on life support.Tweet This
The Schengen Area is on life support. The EU needs to come up with a program to deal with the migration crisis that includes an equitable sharing of migrants as well as serious development assistance efforts to go to the root of the problem. Otherwise, Germany will rebel, France’s far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen will be sitting in the Elysée Palace, and border controls will reemerge.
This would be a serious setback for Europe and would set off a spiral of devolution that could undermine the European project. Now is the time for more Europe, not less.
No, Schengen is not dead. With the refugee crisis, European countries are discovering what it means to share an external border. Governments preferred to behave as if Greece’s or Hungary’s border were just Greece’s or Hungary’s problem, an approach embedded in the practice of sending asylum seekers back to the country through which they entered the EU, the so-called Dublin system. If anything is dead, it is Dublin. After this summer’s images, it is hard to deny that the disappearance of internal borders entails a joint responsibility for the common external border.
European countries are discovering what it means to share an external border.Tweet This
Germany’s position is crucial. A frontline state in the Cold War, today Germany has only EU neighbors. Berlin feels privileged and is ready to share the burden with today’s frontline states. In a recent TV interview, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the public the refugee crisis would be a bigger challenge for Europe than the euro crisis was; asylum, she added, could be “the next major European project, in which we show whether we are really able to take joint action.”
The comparison is telling. For both the eurozone and the Schengen Area, EU governments realize that a common European good (financial stability in the former, free movement in the latter) comes at a higher price than they initially acknowledged.
To save the euro and financial stability, governments had to circumvent the single currency’s no bailout clause that made it illegal for one member state to assume the debts of another, offer rescue money, and strengthen the rules—and they did. To save Schengen and free movement, they will improvise and struggle and fight over migrant quotas and border controls, it will cost blood, sweat, and time—but they will save the greater good.
To talk about the death of the Schengen Area would be premature, but there is little doubt that pressure is moving in that direction in the current EU-bashing environment.
To talk about the death of the #Schengen Area would be premature.Tweet This
The dramatic inflows of irregular migrants in the last few months have certainly played their part in undermining the credibility of the Schengen arrangements. But the reality is that Schengen has little to do with the current difficulties, which encompass a much larger scope of challenges. Political crisis in the Middle East and a dramatic economic situation in Africa are the real root causes of what is being seen today in Italy, Greece, Macedonia, and Hungary. These challenges will not be solved by dropping Schengen.
Terrorism may be a more direct threat to the future of Schengen, as recent terrorist attacks show the shortcomings of EU cooperation in pinpointing the whereabouts of suspected terrorists inside Europe. But here again, Schengen makes for too easy a culprit. If the EU goes back to internal border controls, will this put an end to the increasing weapons trafficking and the Internet propaganda that are currently feeding the terrorist threat in European countries?
Europe should not be in denial: Schengen certainly needs to be reinforced with stricter rules and an improved circulation of data. But it first needs to be fully and genuinely implemented, which is currently far from being the case. So rather than looking for a scapegoat, Europeans would be much wiser to stick to the full application of Schengen and work in parallel on the other, more crucial elements of the dramatic challenges Europe is facing today.
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