EU businesses push for hi-tech solutions to save Schengen
By Lisbeth Kirk
Europe's largest business organisation, Business Europe, pledged on Thursday (3 March) to present a plan for an advanced European border system within a week to save the Schengen area.
"We have to save Schengen. If it collapses, the internal market will collapse", president of Business Europe, Emma Marcegaglia, told members of the group, representing enterprises in 34 European countries.
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"It is time for the business community to commit to give ideas to solve the problems", she said.
Marcegaglia said she did not think of controlling borders with walls but "with digitalisation, with drones, using technology".
"We are talking about an investment of €30-50 billion per year and made by European companies using their technology and skills and to show that the problem can be solved," she said.
Following a round of phone calls to member associations, Emma Marcegaglia said she expected commitments to present a concrete plan sometime next week, just in time for the upcoming March EU summits on migration.
The European Commission has said it would present its proposal on so-called smart borders this spring.
The idea of a European external border control system has circulated for some time, and has several origins. One of them is Maria Joao Rodrigues, a Portuguese MEP and vice-president of the S&D social-democratic group in charge of economic and social policies.
"I am very pleased that the business community is also supporting this idea, which will now have many shapes," she told EUobserver.
"We have the special summit on 7 March and the 17 March summit and in between we have regional elections in Germany," she noted.
"The risk is in particular with the elections in Germany, which could undermine the support for the current government and strengthen the position of those who want to come back to national borders. So this is why we need to come up with big ideas to prevent this risk," she said.
"My basic assumption is that if you want to stop this dangerous trend to go back to national borders, we need to build up a real European border. It should not be the kind of wall we have in Hungary but an infrastructure providing services of public interest. Managing information, logistics, mobility of all these people for the relocation across Europe and proper accommodation. It is a system, an advanced infrastructure and not a wall," said Rodrigues, who, as an expert in EU political economy, is known as the "mother of the Lisbon Strategy" on innovation.
"This is a big investment, which can also create a lot of jobs, because we need recruiting people for all these functions. In my view a political decision of the concept should be taken at the latest at the summit on 17 March," she said.
Man on the Moon project
The price of a Schengen collapse has been calculated by the EU commission as 57 million road transport journeys a year, worth at least €3 billion.
The Bertelsmann Stiftung found in its study that losses could reach €470 billion for the years 2016 to 2025. A third estimate from France suggested that trade between Schengen countries would drop 10-20 percent.
"People want the power of the EU institutions used to solve the problem of immigration. It is a challenge for Europe to show what it is worth", Hans de Boer, president of the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers, VNO-NC, said to the business audience.
"We have made some Dutch calculations showing that if you would build an intelligent system, not a wall, but a datadriven, high-tech border system, which would also encompass high-quality refugee camps outside of the border it might be a project that would cost on yearly basis around €50 billion which is less than half a percentage of Europe's GDP."
"We would have a project, which would be liked and would be endorsed by the European population. Something like, let's say the man on the moon project by [former US leader] Kennedy," De Boer said.