By Andrea Ursi and Federico Solfrini
What if, just to spend a romantic weekend with your girlfriend in Paris, you needed a VISA?
Would you feel comfortable if, for an Internship in Madrid you were required to get a green card? The European principles of freedom are now at risk. The old continent is being crippled with cumbersome migration flows that have tested the single-border principle at the core of the Union. The survival and the enlargement of the Schengen area appears less likely than ever before. However, the suspension of the Schengen agreements would not only mean a historical backward step but also bring negative impacts on European life standards.
Since freedom of the movement of people has always been considered the greatest conquest of European democracy, which has distanced European citizens from the disastrous scenarios of the bloody World Wars, it is unlikely that we would have imagined a Europe that was Schengen-free. Nevertheless, why should we consider Schengen so important? Schengen is a small town in Luxembourg where in 1985 France, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg settled one of the most important treaties in European history to establish a free area of movement for people, with the progressive elimination of security controls at shared borders. In 1990 Italy and other countries joined the Agreement, but it was only in 1999, through the 1997 Amsterdam treaty, that it came into effect. Nowadays the Schengen Area includes 26 countries, 22 of which are EU Members.
According to the Schengen Borders Code, each country can temporarily reintroduce border controls in case of serious threats to public and internal security, as well as (according to EU Regulation No. 1051/2013) in the presence of serious gaps in terms of controls at external borders. However, in the case of the latter the initiative belongs to the Commission and Council. This is what is now happening: in fact, on January 27 the European Commission, after a meeting held in Amsterdam, initiated a procedure that could lead some countries to reintroduce internal security borders. Such a measure is aimed at containing the flux of 1.2 million refugees who have so far tried to reach European shores, most of them via Greece. Over the past 3 months Greece has been repeatedly accused by Brussels of being negligent in controlling and registering migrants. As a matter of fact, while the number of migrants who come from North Africa and the Middle East rises every day, the suspension of the Schengen system has quickly shifted from a possible threat to reality. Germany, Denmark and Sweden are the countries that are reinforcing their border control the most, both for pragmatism and out of necessity. What impact would this have on European destiny? What about our future?
|“We have no capacity to take all the refugees in Greece. We are a small country of nine million, it’s difficult to accept three million refugees.”
Greek Migration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas
Foremost coastal states, such as Greece and Italy, would be the most affected. Indeed, as Greek officials said, closing borders would not stop refugees but rather concentrate them in those countries, which would be transformed into huge refugee camps, thus exposing them to serious internal security problems. In the short term hospitals would be overcrowded, poor outskirts would be barely manageable and this could lead to further problems for penal systems and prisons. Moreover, all over Europe transport connections would become much less efficient, provoking traffic jams everywhere, while cross-border workers would run the risk of being discharged, as the movement between countries would be too complicated. In the long term, as France Stratégie warns, the reintroduction of border controls among the 26 members of the Schengen passport-free travel zone would leave the bloc’s economy 0.8% smaller than it otherwise would have been by 2025. The impact would mostly stem from reduced tourist spending and trade. According to the growth forecasts for 2016 provided by the European Commission, a more widespread suspension of Schengen and measures that endanger the achievements of the internal market could potentially have a disruptive impact on economic growth.
However, it is in terms of freedom and values that Europe would mostly lose out. 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall xenophobe sentiments, as well as ideological and real barriers, are remerging throughout Europe. As Lucio Caracciolo (editor in chief of Limes) argues, Europe risks transforming itself into an archipelago of ghettos. For Europeans it would be a hard hit. Nevertheless, seven countries of the Schengen Area have already restored security controls at their borders, due to the fear of terrorist attacks or in an attempt to keep refugees away. The truth is that the reintroduction of border controls is not a measure that by itself would prevent terrorism. Therefore, cooperation and integration, two of the foundation stones upon which Europe rests, should be regained and the initiative for this lies with Member States. This is the first step in revitalising the Old Continent.