Thursday

27th Jun 2019

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 18 year's of archives. 30 days 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.

EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers' rights

Behind the smiles and handshakes, the signature of the EU-Vietnam trade and investment deals agreed on Tuesday and to be signed this week have dire consequences for human well-being and our ability to prevent climate and ecological breakdown.

Council of Europe vs Russia: stay or go?

We have reached the point where Russia threatens to leave the Council of Europe and cease to be party to the European Convention on Human Rights.

EU must counter Kushner's so-called 'peace' plan

This so-called "Deal of the Century" on Israel/Palestine is likely to be no more than a big sham, and the US-led economic peace workshop in Bahrain will hardly change this perception.

What's going on in Moldova - and what next?

Over the weekend, as private jets evacuated prominent members of the Democratic Party and their allies, Moldovans celebrated the peaceful power transition. Looking beyond the euphoria that surrounded the celebrations, the new government is facing many challenges.

News in Brief

  1. EU warns Turkey as 'Gezi Park' trials begin
  2. EU universities to share students, curricula
  3. Migrant rescue ship loses Human Rights Court appeal
  4. Denmark completes social democrat sweep of Nordics
  5. Johnson offers 'do or die' pledge on Brexit
  6. Weber indirectly attacks Macron in newspaper op-ed
  7. EU to sign free trade deal with Vietnam
  8. EU funding of air traffic control 'largely unnecessary'

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  4. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  6. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  7. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  8. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  9. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate

Latest News

  1. EU moves to end car-testing 'confidentiality clause'
  2. EU parliament gives extra time for leaders on top jobs
  3. Europe's rights watchdog lifts Russia sanctions
  4. EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers' rights
  5. EU 'special envoy' going to US plan for Palestine
  6. Polish judicial reforms broke EU law, court says
  7. EU study: no evidence of 'East vs West' food discrimination
  8. Russia tried to stir up Irish troubles, US think tank says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us