Schengen’s Stress Test: Political Issues and Perspectives

Written by | Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Yves Bertoncini and António Vitorino (Notre Europe – Jacques Delors Institute)

The Schengen area is facing, due to the current migration flows, the biggest crisis in its twenty-year history. This, what is sometimes referred to as a ‘European crisis’, is caused by two main problems: a massive influx of asylum seekers and the threat of terrorism. In various EU states, political elites and citizens look at refugees either as “victims” or “threats”. As a result of the terrorist attacks in Paris, voices calling for the reintroduction of controls at the borders of EU Member States are being heard ever more often, while those calling for the preservation of the freedom of movement are openly opposing them. Moreover, politicians are using the criticism of Schengen to cover their own mistakes, the failures of the national police and intelligence services.

As a result, there is a crisis of solidarity and, above all, of trust between Member States. While Greece and Italy did not feel to be sufficiently supported at the beginning of the massive influx of refugees, the Central European countries were forced to adopt redistribution quotas. In Greece and Italy, registration centers (so-called “hotspots”) were created, whose role is to overcome the loss of solidarity and confidence. The cooperation throughout the EU was strengthened following the Paris attacks. And since the threat of terror is still looming large, Member States have naturally become more united and in need of ensuring a better security.

Functioning “hotspots” should be seen as a tool for shared sovereignty of the Member States. The sovereignty must then be deepened also on the basis of security and intelligence services because not only citizens can move freely but so can also jihadists. One of the forms of such a shared sovereignty in practice is also the planned European Border and Coastal Guard. The migration crisis is exerting pressure on the external borders of the Schengen area and it is therefore important not only to strengthen its external borders but also act as a strong player vis-à-vis the neighboring countries. The stability of the Schengen can be ensured only if all these principles are effectively in place.

It is too early to predict the end of the Schengen, just like it turned out to be premature to announce “Grexit” or the collapse of the euro. The crisis of solidarity and confidence between the countries, on the contrary, demonstrated that nobody wants to allow the disintegration of the Schengen, which would in the end negatively affect the everyday lives of citizens and the effectiveness of the fight against terrorism. In light of these difficulties, we can assume that the Union will eventually emerge from this problematic development – as has always been the case – strengthened and reinvigorated.

(The study can be downloaded here

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