European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned today (15 January) that restoring borders in response to the refugee problem could kill off the internal market.
Outlining his priorities for the New Year, Juncker linked the EU’s borderless Schengen zone which is coming under threats to implode, with the common European currency and the internal market.
“Without Schengen, without the free movement of workers, without freedom of European citizens to travel, the euro makes no sense,” he said.
“What is the point of having one currency, which you can use across the continent, if you cannot travel across the continent, as we have been able to do until now,” said Juncker, adding that the same link existed also with the European internal market.
“Who kills Schengen will eventually put the internal market to the grave,” Juncker said, adding it would lead to “an unemployment problem which will not be manageable anymore.”
“When all this breaks down, the economic price, the loss of growth and the damage for the European growth perspectives will be enormous,” he said.
Juncker gave some examples illustrating the extra cost of restoring borders. At the Øresund bridge which links Sweden to Denmark, the costs of the checks have reached €300 million already, he said.
Sweden introduced border controls on the Øresund bridge in November and in the beginning of this year both Sweden and Denmark introduced ID checks.
>> Read: Denmark to introduce border controls
Juncker said a similar backlog between Germany and Denmark is estimated to cost €90 million. He also said there were 1.7 million people who cross borders in the EU regularly – of which 200,000 cross the borders to go to work in his native Luxembourg.
The commission president said that there were 47 million cases of road transport every year, for which additional waiting at borders would result at extra cost of €55,000 euro per truck.
“That’s a conservative estimate. But if we continue like this the additional costs of border checks could amount to €3 billion”, Juncker said.
He further said that there were 24 million business trips per year in the European single market.
“If Schengen were to collapse, the loss in terms of growth would be unmeasurable. It would mean that the European single market would be set to fail”, Juncker said.
Juncker called on “those who take political decisions” to see beyond the refugee crisis and look at the bigger picture which he described.
He said he would not give up on the relocation of 160,000 migrants from Greece and Italy over two years to other EU countries. The scheme, agreed by member states in September, has so far succeeded in relocating only 272 migrants.
“I’m not going to allow the member states to just do what they want. Some are doing a lot, others are not willing to do anything. Some are saying – we are not accepting any refugees at all. That’s not on,” he hammered out.
Juncker said he was “getting a little tired” that the commission was coming under fire for not doing enough to resolve the migrant crisis. He hit back at member states, warning that the EU was “moving toward a serious crisis in terms of credibility” if they don’t assume their legal and political commitments.
Putting the refugees to work
Juncker said EU leaders should agree that those who come to Europe seeking refuge for a certain amount of time should regularise their situation and pursue an occupation, because – in his words – if someone is sitting at home for months or even years idly and not working, they will never going to be able to become a fully valid member of European society.
It is however unclear how EU societies would find jobs for the migrants. Europe is already struggling with a massive economic problem with more than 10% out of work, including 50% of young people in countries like Greece and Spain.
“And that’s important if we want to protect ourselves from all sorts of unpleasant things”, he said in an obvious reference to the recent sexual assaults in Cologne and other European cities.
Juncker said refugees should not “arrogantly decide” in which country they want to live.
“That’s just not possible. Absolutely not on. It’s not the refugees who are responsible for dividing up refugees, it’s the member states. No refugee has the right to refuse to be sent to a particular country”, he said.
Juncker said that in spring the Commission would announce a new version of the Dublin asylum system. The current Dublin system is not working as it should, he said, but also hinted that he doesn’t expect that the member states would easily agree on it.