Monday

16th Jul 2018

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.

... our 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.

How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism

The suggestion that Russians themselves play a role in the condition of their state today is often dismissed as "xenophobic" or "Russophobic". But if not addressed, the evils of nationalism, chauvinism, and imperialism will continue even after Putin is gone.

EU climate diplomacy can make the difference

At this critical time, with climate change increasingly urgent and with reactionary, anti-science forces threatening processes of cooperation, the EU climate mission can reassert the common values and aspirations which Europeans share.

News in Brief

  1. VW owners to get diesel software update free until 2020
  2. Airbnb breaches EU consumer rules, Commission says
  3. EU sees no China free-trade talks
  4. Italy accepts migrant boat after help promises
  5. EU opens case on Siemens' Alstom buyout
  6. Trump: May found my Brexit advice 'too brutal'
  7. Italy will reject EU-Canada trade deal, says deputy PM
  8. Commission: Juncker suffered from sciatica attack at Nato

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil 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

Latest News

  1. EU is 'foe', as Trump seeks to make friends with Putin
  2. Let's not be 'naive' with Chinese partner, says senior MEP
  3. Trump, trade, and Brexit in EU headlines This WEEK
  4. EU and China edge closer in Trump's 'America First' world
  5. How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism
  6. Stage set for Trump-Putin finale
  7. Trump scuppers trade deal with UK under May's Brexit
  8. Trump wades into Brexit after Nato fiasco

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  3. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  4. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  5. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  8. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us