The European Commission was pressed today with questions about Schengen, bringing back echoes of the words once uttered by Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos: “If Schengen dies, I’m afraid it will be the beginning of the end of Europe”.
The issue is that the borderless EU space known as the Schengen area, considered as one of the biggest successes of the EU, is being dismantled, with member countries asking, one by one or in groups, to keep the border controls introduced during the most dramatic times of the refugee crisis.
Travel in the 26-country Schengen area – which includes 22 EU countries plus non-EU Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein – is normally free of border and passport controls.
Under current rules, Schengen states can reinstate ID checks at their borders with other zone members for six months when there is a perceived threat, extending that for up to two years in exceptional cases.
Of course, when the Schengen agreement was drafted, its authors were probably more concerned about football hooliganism and public disorder, than massive uncontrolled flows of refugees across the external borders of Schengen.
The Commission has repeatedly tried to remove the emergency border controls. It tried to return to normality last May, but Germany refused. Then the intention was to end Schengen controls in November, but it didn’t work either.
On 27 September, the Commission proposed to allow member states to exceptionally prolong controls over two years if the same threats persists. This is when Avramopoulos made this dramatic comment.
And yesterday Denmark announced that it would be extending its temporary border controls with Sweden and Germany, arguing that terrorists were taking advantage of the EU’s open borders.
The Commission announced that Denmark was not alone, and a similar “series of notifications” had arrived, mentioning Germany and France.
Reportedly, the German notification says internal controls would be needed until the external Schengen borders become reliable.
Germans have a talent for speaking clearly. The point is that in spite of certain festive announcements, the external border controls are not controlled, at least not by EU policies.
Member states guard the external borders by erecting fences, and in the Mediterranean, Italy has no other choice than to chase the NGO ships and bribe thugs in Libya to keep migrants at bay.
If Schengen is still alive, it’s because some EU member states are doing the dirty work.
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Views are the author’s