Wednesday

29th Jan 2020

Opinion

The battle for Schengen: More Europe in the next decade

  • 'The Schengen debate raised the question of the future protection of European borders in general' (Photo: MSVG)

The European debate on Schengen was so intense and strategic for the common European future that it managed to at times push the story of the financial crisis in Greece, Portugal and Ireland to the inside pages.

At first glance, the debate concerned the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen area but the debate was actually much deeper; it raised the question of the future protection of European borders in general.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The immigration pressures that Europe is facing today can only be compared to the stresses of the global financial crisis. Both phenomena threaten the very functioning of major systems of the European Union. It became clear that, as in the case of the financial crisis, the European Union has no developed strategy or response mechanism for the current immigration crisis.

The debate stems from the accession treaties of Bulgaria and Romania that stipulate that both countries should join the Schengen area in 2011.

To do so, they must fulfil a number of technical criteria that apply to all other European countries. It is as simple as that. The governments of both Bulgaria and Romania embraced this as an important task by which they could strengthen their domestic and foreign policy positions. They worked hard, invested millions of euros from their own or EU funds and in fact managed to fulfil these technical criteria.

The MEP charged with shepherding the subject through the European Parliament, Carlos Coelho, a Portuguese parliamentarian from the European People's Party, clearly stated in his report that the criteria have been met. During the debate in a full siting of the chamber in Strasbourg, all arguments in favour of the accession of the two countries to the Schengen area were put forward diligently by Coelho and at least two dozen other parliamentarians.

The most important arguments were that there are well-established criteria: These have been met and therefore the accession of Bulgaria and Romania should proceed, as in the case of other countries in the past, according to the Treaty and without the need for any political modalities. Opponents to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania numbered less than one fifth of those in the plenary hall and their arguments ranged from the emotional to the political bordering on the abstract.

Concerns were expressed that both countries have high levels of organised crime, corruption and poorly reformed judicial systems. These are things that cannot be measured accurately and belong more in the field of political debate. Even the Roma were invoked, but the fact that Bulgaria has had a visa-free regime with European countries for ten years, which means no current obstacles to the free movement of Roma people anyway, was conveniently not mentioned.

A geographical divide emerged between those MEPs who were for and those against accession. The east and the south tended to support while the west and the north tended to oppose the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. Ultimately, the European Parliament recommended the accession of Bulgaria and Romania with 487 votes in favour to 77 votes against.

The real problem did not relate to the readiness of Bulgaria and Romania but to something entirely different. This discussion was taking place at a time of unprecedented immigration pressure in two parts of Europe, the first one covering Italy and France as a consequence of the north African revolutions, and the second one being in Greece following the last fifteen restless years in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, Turkey.

It is precisely here that European solidarity might start to crumble. In this particular case, the southern countries immediately requested assistance from the Union which the Northern countries nearly refused on the grounds that, under the Schengen treaty, each country is to protect its own borders.

Formally, of course, this is correct. This attitude, however, seems a little short-sighted since the Schengen borders will be penetrated at certain precise spots which even larger countries such as Italy and France will struggle to contain.

It is even more difficult for the eleven million people living in Greece, who for years have been facing a stream of immigrants breaking through the national defences. Official statistics suggest around 250 people enter the Schengen area illegally every day but it is probable the figure is higher.

The problems for Bulgaria would be exactly the same. The common border with Turkey is around 420 kilometres, equally divided between Bulgaria and Greece.

The most important thing now is to use the situation of general discomfort to all concerned and to create an additional mechanism, possibly on the basis of Frontex, in order to provide an enhanced presence in the neuralgic regions of Europe.

One such region is undoubtedly the Bulgarian-Turkish border, where the presence of pan-European security forces must be visible and convincing. In this way, not only can immigration flows be contained but we can also combat illegal drugs and smuggling routes that usually follow illegal immigration routes and deserve an equally uncompromising stance.

The writer is a centre-right Member of the European Parliament

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

In Orban's Hungary, the law is not for everyone

Viktor Orban has seen to it that public authorities will not pay legal compensation owed to members of two particularly vulnerable groups: Roma victims of segregated education, and prisoners detained in conditions that violate their human dignity.

Trump's 'plan' for Israel will go against EU values

As someone who has been personally targeted by Benjamin Netanyahu's incitement against Arabs and Palestinians, Christians, Muslims and Druze, I still believe that peace is possible. But Donald Trump's 'plan' will be a gift to Netanyahu's campaign.

Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal

The moment Europe revels in its carbon-free transport system, most of the cars that emitted too much for EU standards will still be driving around for years somewhere else in the world.

Eastern Partnership must now improve media freedoms

The EU can hardly criticise Eastern Partnership countries for disrespecting media freedom. Five EU member states, including current presidency Croatia, came below Armenia and Georgia in the 2019 RSF Press Freedom Index. Bulgaria ranked nine places behind Ukraine.

News in Brief

  1. EU asylum agency to expand operations in Greece
  2. EU set to repatriate citizens from coronavirus-hit Wahun
  3. German Left MEP resigns over former far-right membership
  4. Sassoli defends 'renewed approach' for enlargement
  5. UK approves limited role for Huawei in 5G network
  6. Cases of coronavirus in France and Germany
  7. Report: EU court seeks authority on post-Brexit deal
  8. Slovenian PM resigns, calls snap election

Column

Why nations are egomaniacs

A nation, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, is not capable of altruism. Even less so, if such a group has formed on the basis of strong emotions and casts itself as the "saviour of the nation".

Maltese murder - the next rule-of-law crisis in EU?

While Poland's government is escalating its rule of law crisis by introducing even more drastic measures against the country's judges, another problem is looming over the EU's commitment to upholding the rule of law: Malta.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. EU not prepared for 2015 repeat, warns migration director
  2. Selmayr did not want top job, says predecessor
  3. EU states wary of MEPs leading future conference
  4. Timmermans: EU climate law will 'discipline' rogue states
  5. In Orban's Hungary, the law is not for everyone
  6. 'Brexit is not going to go away,' warns EU's Barnier
  7. Belgian spy services launch internal clear-up
  8. US and UK in war of words over Huwaei

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us