The end of a Europe without borders?
2015-10-01 16:00:47 -

Michael McGowan


This year is the 30th anniversary of the historic meeting in the small village of Schengen in Luxembourg, at which it was agreed to abolish internal border controls in Europe. The policy was fully implemented 20 years ago when the original Schengen Convention, signed in 1985, became part of EU Law as the Treaty of Amsterdam came into effect.


The Schengen Zone, as it’s come to be known, has a population of over 400 million people across 20 of the EU’s 28 member states. The zone excludes Bulgaria, Croatia, Cypres and Romania, which are legally obliged and wish to join, while Ireland and the UK maintain an opt-out. All four countries of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland – have signed the Schengen Agreement and three European micro-states – Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican – can be considered part as they do not have border controls with Schengen countries but have not officially signed agreement documents.


A Schengen country may exceptionally reintroduce border controls if there is a serious threat to security at its internal borders for up to 30 days, but such should be reported to other Schengen countries, the European Parliament, the EU Commission and the public.


“The creation of the Schengen area is one of the greatest achievements of the European Union and it is the irreversible,” said the EU Commissioner for Migration and former Greek Foreign Minister, Dimitris Avramopoupos, in June of this year.



Refugee problem

On his latest visit to Germany, Avramopoupos described that country’s approach to the current refugee crisis as “an embodiment to a European spirit” and “an example of the openness and solidarity the values – which our European Union is founded upon.” In Hungary, however, he bluntly responded to the recent erection of the wall built to stop Syrian migrants entering the country and said that the “passing on the refugee problem from one country to another is not a solution”.


Indeed, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, in his recent address at Chatham House in London, echoed that sentiment when he said: “There is no wall you would not climb, no sea you would not cross if you are fleeing violence and terror.”


For the past two decades within the European countries of the Schengen Zone, people have travelled freely without being troubled by customs or passport controls. But now the imposition of border controls, including in Germany and Austria, to restrict the flow of refugees and migrants is threatening the very existence of the Schengen Agreement, which is one of Europe’s most outstanding achievements.


Although Schengen rules allow countries to impose temporary controls, the impact of Germany taking this action – claiming that the Dublin Regulation, that compels asylum seekers to apply in the first EU member state, is failing – may be far reaching, and the possible demise of Schengen, one of the grand projects of Europe like the Euro, is of great concern.


The blocking of previously open borders with razor-wire fences and dogs, and the use of tear gas and water cannons against children, is simply inhuman. The agreement signed in Schengen in 1985 that blazed the trail for a Europe without internal borders was a major step in building an ever-closer union, and may well fall apart as Europe refuses to show solidarity in facing the most serious refugee problem since the Second World War.



Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament

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