Schengen Enlargement: Freedom of movement or scattered security?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Despite most Europeans being “overwhelmingly positive” towards the enlargement of the Schengen zone, the abolition of internal land and sea borders in the enlarged Schengen area “seems to have prompted the emergence of new forms of control,” claims  Anaïs Faure Atger in a March research paper for the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

Atger hails the recent enlargement of the Schengen area and the lifting of internal checks as an “important victory for the principle of free movement of persons in the EU,” and a “very strong statement of trust among the peoples of Europe and their governments”. 

However, the road to the full enjoyment of this right has “not been free from troubles,” she argues. Notably, “several constraints” have at times been imposed on the new member states “in the name of security”. 

Security, Atger points out, has been a “priority concern” in lifting border checks. This arose from a “general feeling of mistrust” among the EU 15 that the EU 9 had not achieved sufficient implementation of the Schengen acquis – and specifically concerns as to whether the new members are “capable of attaining a level of cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs matching that of the EU 15”.

Thus several EU 15 member states, and notably Germany and Austria, have been setting up police controls and spot checks several kilometres from the official borders of EU 9 neighbours, Atger observes. “Special policing measures” resulting from “the security deficit created by the Schengen enlargement” mean that “being stopped several kilometres from the official border by police forces does not appear questionable”. 

This has led to a number of “alternative, functional borders” being set up which are “not only spatially scattered and diversified in terms of authorities but they are also mainly subject to national discretion”. 

“The main victims of this have been the citizens of the newly acceding countries and third country nationals,” whose situation is today difficult to assess, believes the author. These potential travellers were “led to understand that movement in the Schengen area would no longer encounter border checks” whereas in reality, many are still being stopped and even made to return, she claims. 

Contrary to the intentions of the EU external border authorities, “security has been a priority concern in lifting internal border checks,” Atger concludes, triggering a number of measures creating new obstacles to mobility. 

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