Cancelling the Schengen agreement won’t make Europe safer
The sleepy Luxembourg village of Schengen, the place where the European Union’s border-free zone bearing the village’s name was agreed in 1985, is a symbol of how joyous a borderless Europe can be. It is 1km from the centre of the village, across the bridge over the Mosel, to Germany, and 2km along the same river to . The local Coteaux de Schengen wine is made from the grapes harvested in the three countries.
Of Luxembourg’s workforce, 44% – – travel from Belgium, France and Germany every day. In the European Union as a whole, cross-border commuters numbered 778,000 the last time such figures were recorded in 2006-07, . When it comes to air traffic, intra-EU arrivals (460m) were about than extra-EU arrivals (125m) at main EU airports in 2012. This is the everyday story of the European Union – crossing borders, for work, study or pleasure, has become easier than ever.
All of this has been called into question by the twin challenges of the refugee crisis and the 13 November Paris attacks. That the person carrying a passport with the name , one of the Stade de France bombers, seems to have passed into the European Union at Leros in Greece, has conflated these two issues.
The Schengen system and its precursors (the dates from 1954 and passport controls were abolished between Benelux countries ) are based on the idea that if external borders are adequately secured, internal borders can effectively be removed. The second part of this is that as crime can also happen cross-border,collaboration between police forces needs to be stepped up to combat this threat. In addition, the Dublin regulation stipulates that the country where a refugee first enters the European Union is the place where she must seek asylum.
Trust is implicit within this system. The Swedes need to be reassured that the Greeks are adequately controlling people entering their territory, the French need to know that the Belgians are investigating terrorist suspects and passing the relevant information on to them, and Poland wants to know that refugees on boats across the Mediterranean are applying for asylum in Italy.
The problem is that none of the these three components seem to work adequately any more, and trust has been severely tested. The reaction of many countries is simply to resort to the systems of the past – to build border fences and set up border posts once again, and to temporarily suspend Schengen and call its very future into question. But this doesn’t solve the challenges Europe faces.
First, reimposing controls provokes chaos for those that need to cross borders on an everyday basis, causing major tailbacks. would be inconvenienced daily, many more on a weekly or monthly basis.
Second, leaving the countries of southern Europe to deal with refugee flows on their own is no solution. have arrived in 2015 already and leaving already overstretched countries to deal with them is no answer either for those countries or for asylum seekers.
Third, the threat of terrorism is . The majority of the Paris attackers so far identified were . The 2005 London bombers, likewise, were home-grown. In the aftermath of Paris, the Dutch government has suggested a , but with the aftermath of the Paris attacks focusing on Belgium, that would keep terrorists in rather than out.
The ex-Interpol general secretary Ronald K Noble, , calls the Schengen system “Europe’s welcome sign to terrorists”, but he is not about to call for the imposition of border controls between Idaho and Wyoming. That is because the US has the apparatus – the US border patrol and the FBI – to make a borderless union of states work. The Schengen equivalents – the Frontex border agency, and the Schengen Information System (SIS) to facilitate information exchange between national law enforcement bodies in the EU – are weak and incomplete in comparison. Meanwhile the Dublin regulation, which might have made sense for relatively small numbers of people seeking asylum, was already woefully inadequate to deal with migration from Libya, let alone from Syria.
The solution is not to abandon Schengen, but to strengthen its systems. An EU border force, a genuine EU investigative agency, and a permanent redistributive quota system to replace the Dublin regulation, are the minimum the European Union requires. If not, the consequences of wars in Europe’s neighbourhood, and home-grown terrorism, will continue to put a core component of the European Union in grave danger.