Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Opinion

Why Schengen deserves to be saved

  • Removing Schengen would make free movement more difficult - jeopardising trade, growth, increasing unemployment, whilst also harming travel and tourism. (Photo: dmytrok)

Just one week after Emmanuel Macron’s landslide election victory offered a ringing endorsement of the European project in France, the prime minister of Denmark made it clear that the debate over Europe’s open borders is far from over.

The European Commission announced last month (2 May) that Denmark would need to lift border controls come November, in compliance with the Schengen agreement.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

On 16 May, Danish prime minister Lars Rasmussen issued his defiant response: "We will continue border controls unless the EU miraculously finds ways to regain control of its outer frontiers and Italy curbs the flow of refugees … into Europe." This harsh tone needs to be taken in the context of Denmark’s delicate politics.

Rasmussen’s minority government relies on parliamentary support from the far-right Danish People’s Party, which shares a strategy with Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen in using the 26-country passport-free Schengen area as a convenient target for anti-EU platforms.

After all, Schengen is one of the key pillars of the European project and its dismantlement would herald the end of one of the most successful and visible achievements of the EU.

The far-right candidates have had competition in this year’s high-stakes elections: in France, even some mainstream conservative candidates depicted the Schengen zone as a threat to national security and the control of migration – advocating for the return of border controls within the Schengen area or its wholesale elimination.

While these populist stances are part of a transatlantic nationalist narrative that also echoes from the White House of US president Donald Trump, they are based on several fundamental untruths.

The main untruths

First of all, with highly secured passports and a standardised control process for travellers coming from non-Schengen countries, the external borders of the EU (and non-EU Schengen countries: Switzerland, Norway and Iceland) are as secure as any other.

Despite widespread fears of foreign terrorists disguising themselves as refugees to cross into Europe, this remains infrequent.

Whether in France, Belgium, or Germany, almost all of those responsible for horrendous acts of terror lived in Europe for years prior – and, in most cases, their whole lives.

The terrorist attacks over the last two years in these countries primarily highlight the need to strengthen anti-terror cooperation and the sharing of information.

Secondly, the argument that open borders are a drain on national economies is patently false.

In reality, from an economic point of view, the disintegration of Schengen would have catastrophic effects – jeopardising trade and growth, and increasing unemployment.

A recent study by the French Commissariat for Strategy explained just how much: “In the longer run, widespread permanent border controls would decrease trade between Schengen countries by a factor of 10% to 20%".

The study added that "this would be equivalent to a 3% value-added tax on trade, leading to a loss for France of half a percentage point in GDP, or more than €10 billion. This figure does not include the impact on foreign investment and labour mobility."

It also outlines the impact it would have on the Schengen area's overall economy: "Overall, the Schengen area’s GDP would be reduced by 0.8 points, equivalent to more than €100 billion. An additional impact on labour mobility, foreign investment and financial flows can be anticipated, but is difficult to quantify."

Opening France

Voters in France were perfectly cognisant of the importance of Europe’s open borders when they went to vote earlier this month.

Freedom from internal border controls has a major impact on tourist flows, boosting an industry critical to the economies of many EU countries. This not only includes short-stay travellers, but also those coming from outside the Schengen area as part of a longer trip.

By making it easy to visit multiple countries during the same trip – and sparing tourists the burden of multiple national visas – freedom of movement helps spread tourist euros across the EU.

Schengen also facilitates regular cross-border movement for millions of Europeans: in France alone, 353,000 people worked in a neighbouring country in 2011.

For these workers and others, including those who work in Europe’s freight industries, a return to border controls would be economically disastrous.

Most importantly however, losing Schengen would signal a dramatic loss of political capital for the EU – fatally undermining the four basic freedoms of persons, capital, services, and goods.

Internal borders and controls are unwelcome vestiges of the old Europe; a continent without borders is a highly political and symbolic asset, especially when compared to the barbed-wire fences being erected in some corners of the world. It also encourages non-Schengen EU countries (such as Romania and Bulgaria) to join the area.

Beyond pure economics, Schengen embodies fully-fledged membership and integration into the EU. By governing institutional arrangements made with outside countries, Schengen has also become part of the EU’s soft power.

Reduce borders, increase power

For Eastern bloc countries and other emerging democracies around the world, visa-free access to the Schengen area is a prized objective.

Ukraine just received final acceptance from the European Parliament in April 2017, a significant milestone after the 2014 Maidan revolution in the country that was driven by European values.

Schengen has also served as a useful bargaining chip in bilateral negotiations outside Europe.

Peru, for example, recently celebrated one year after having lifted Schengen visa requirements for its citizens.

That newfound access was facilitated by Peru's new, fully secured biometric passports from a consortium led by France's Imprimerie Nationale (the country's official printing works), which prevent fraud and contribute to the fight against falsified documents.

Paradoxically, while some nationalist European parties are openly considering abandoning the Schengen model, other regional blocs are thinking of embracing it: the Gulf Cooperation Council and ASEAN have just been the latest to seriously consider lifting internal border controls.

By exploiting latent fears of uncontrolled immigration across open borders, far-right parties such as the Danish People’s Party, France's Front National, and the UK Independence Party (Ukip) have managed to turn the Schengen area into a political hot potato despite its manifold benefits.

Macron’s victory in France has temporarily neutralised this political threat, but he himself has repeatedly assessed that the work is not over.

An open Europe must successfully protect its citizens against terrorist threats, aggressive powers, and internal dumping.

Otherwise, the narrative being pushed by illiberal and anti-European populists will regain traction sooner rather than later.

Nicolas Tenzer is the chairman of the Paris-based Centre for Study and Research for Political Decision (Cerap), editor of the journal Le Banquet, author of three official reports to the government, including two on international strategy, and of 21 books.

Magazine

Losing Schengen would hurt EU businesses

Systematic border controls would cost €53 to €130 for every European citizen, according to estimates, but the transport industry is already feeling the pain of border checks within the EU.

Ten Commandments to overcome the EU's many crises

A series of missteps - from the faulty institutional infrastructure of the euro, to the migration crisis - have left the EU battered and in near crisis. Here are ten steps to re-democratise the union.

Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?

There can be no more excuses for business. They will be held for responsible for their failure to take action to prevent the risk of human and labour rights through their supply chains.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

What does Poland want from the EU?

We propose several changes to the EU, derived from the political philosophy behind the current Polish government, and what Poles expect from the EU - this could be seen as a manifesto Poland wants the next European Commission to tackle.

Migration and May elections - time to get facts right

If misinformation in the field of migration can bring a government down, as in the recent case of Belgium following the country's adoption of the UN migration pact, then it can doubtless produce a populist majority in the European parliament.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us