Schengen’s stress test: political issues and perspectives

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Series Details 15.02.16
Publication Date 15/02/2016
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António Vitorino and Yves Bertoncini analyse the civic and diplomatic roots of the crisis in the Schengen area in order to diagnose its scale and to identify a potential way out over the coming months. Their policy paper combines three sets of political statements and recommendations:

1. Schengen under fire from opposing political visions

- While all of the Europeans agree on perceiving Islamist terrorism as a threat, some of them can perceive asylum-seekers as 'victims' and others as a threat.

- 'Schengen' is caught in a cross-fire between national political representations that overrate the real protective potential of borders, and pro-European representations that play down the original agreement’s security-related aspects and the popular dimension of free movement.

- 'Schengen bashing' is used by national authorities eager to offload their own failings and responsibilities as regards the evolution of the refugee crisis and in the face of terrorist threats.

2. A crisis in solidarity, but primarily a crisis in trust, on the verge of being reduced?

- The construction of 'hotspots' has the merit of responding at once to the lack of solidarity and to the lack of trust among the Schengen area’s member states - as will the 'European Border and Coast Guard' project.

- The terror threat triggers a far more emotion-based solidarity among European countries, facilitating the adoption of security measures at the EU level, but how is it possible to achieve a fluid and fruitful exchange of information among European countries that continue to spy on one another?

- There is a race against time, to end in 2018, between the Europeanisation of external border monitoring and the temporary reintroduction of national border controls, which is an implementation and not a 'suspension' of Schengen code;

- Are the Europeans going to hold to a position seeking to maintain the rights associated with Schengen’s membership (more freedom and police and judicial cooperation) while agreeing to shoulder more of the duties that go with that (in terms both of solidarity and of border control)?

3. More Europe on the borders, but also beyond: a sovereignty issue

- The creation of 'hotspots' and the relocation of asylum-seekers must be presented as crisis-management tools justifying the shared exercise of sovereignty in order for them to be more effective and to enjoy greater legitimacy.

- There is a need to act within a 'shared sovereignty' area in which everyone and everything moves about freely, including jihadist terrorists and human trafficking networks, but not police officers and not the intelligence that those officers possess.

- Pressure will continue to bear down on the Schengen area until the Europeans prove capable of preventing and controlling crises occurring in their neighbourhood: acting on our borders won’t be efficient, only 'Europe power' can contribute to Schengen’s rescue.

António Vitorino and Yves Bertoncini conclude their policy paper by underlinining that It is way too soon to announce the death of 'Schengen', just as it proved way too soon to announce the 'Grexit' in 2015 - and that it is even possible that the crisis in the Schengen area may have a similar outcome to the crisis in the euro area, then leading to more European solidarity and control.

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Related Links
ESO: Background information: Schengen evaluation of Greece: Council adopts recommendation to address deficiencies in external borders
ESO: Background information: The EU needs to overcome fear and divisions to safeguard Schengen, say MEPs

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