Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Schengen Agreement faces risk of two year suspension

The Schengen Agreement is in grave danger of at the very least suspension and perhaps complete dissolution if the intitial two-year suspension being considered becomes more permanent. The "crisis" leading to this possibility/likelihood has been developing since last summer, when large numbers of migrants began arriving by sea in Greece and Italy, from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan (often via Turkey), although there are also arrivals from parts of sub-Saharan and eastern Africa (either to Italy or some suggest by more circuitous means via Turkey). Although migrants had been arriving in both countries for at least a couple of years, pleas for help and assistance from the EU in Brussels had largely fallen on deaf ears in practical terms until the numbers arriving last summer became so large and television reporters began filing reports back to their audiences throughout Europe and beyond, that the EU could no longer feign ignorance of what was happening, nor avoid some kind of response. It is even being suggested, by a senior Dutch representative in Brussels, that some of the immigrants are in fact Moroccans or Tunisians who have used fake Syrian or Iraqi passports to pose as refugees and travel via Turkey and then Greece, with the hope of arriving in northern Europe, indeed this same official has quoted from an as yet unpublished official EU report that fully 60% of the "refugees"/"asylum seekers" so far in the Schengen Area are in fact "economic migrants" not in real danger or needing to flee for their lives - which is what the status of "refugee" or "asylum seeker" implies. Establishing the true identities of individuals allegedly travelling under false documents is not an easy matter, though.

One of those responses, from Germany and its Chancellor, was to say that these migrants (immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants or however you choose to describe them) would be welcome to come to Germany, so naturally large numbers began to flood across the borders leading to Germany and other northern European countries, via the intervening countries. Some of those countries initially allowed free passage across their territories, but quickly realised they could not cope with the volume of people and Germany and Sweden, two of the countries which had initially been receptive to receiving these newcomers, began to experience difficulties in coping with the influx at a practical level, not to mention that certain segments of their own populations began to express very negative opinions about what was occurring, so both started to reimpose the border controls which Schengen had supposedly abolished forever. There have also been numerous well-documented cases in Germany, Sweden and others such as Belgium and France, where some recent arrivals have behaved in a way that is totally unacceptable in a European country, particularly involving aggressive sexual or other anti-social behaviour towards women.

One proposal is for Greece, which alone has no common land border with any other participating country, to be excluded completely. The Greeks are not, to put it mildly, particularly happy with this turn of events. The latest I am reading is that the European Commission has issued what amounts to an ultimatum to Greece to "fix" the "serious deficiencies" in its border control procedures. Given the way the issue of Greece remaining, or not, within the Eurozone was dealt with by the European Commission I shall be surprised if this threat is carried out within the current time-frame, but no doubt further "huffing and puffing" will happen as the 3-month deadline approaches and some new arrangement is cobbled together. Meantime it seems that many other countries in the Schengen Area are already re-introducing border checks, for example the recent check imposed by Germany on those coming from Austria, or those by Sweden on those arriving from Denmark by the road and rail bridge which connects them, which resulted in Denmark imposing similar controls on its southern border with Germany. There are, I understand, other border controls in place in the Schengen Area. Hungary, itself in Schengen, has just completed a fence between it and Croatia, not a member of Schengen.

The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985 completely separately from the then EEC, and implemented fully in 1995 when it was incorporated into what had by then become EU Law with opt-outs for two countries, the UK and Ireland. Currently there are several EU member states which, although obliged to participate eventually, do not yet do so. There are in addition several non-members of the EU which do participate. The various news media that I have consulted are somewhat contradictory at this stage on what precisely has been agreed and what is merely being proposed and negotiated and at present the EU official website is silent on the matter.

Of course the UK, along with Ireland, is not a member of Schengen Area and the opt-outs agreed when it was created mean that it is highly unlikely the UK at least will ever join, and probably this applies to Ireland too, although what it does is ultimately not my concern. What this current "crisis" does indicate however, I think, is that if not "dead", then Schengen is in "critical condition". Being an island it is relatively easy for the UK to have moderately secure border controls, not so easy across the land borders of most of Europe, where in many cases the border check-points that used to exist have been removed completely, with only road-signs signalling that one has passed from one contry to another. I have myself driven across parts of continental Europe on numerous occasions and found the ease of crossing borders very convenient, but I also remember having driven across various borders before Schengen was created, for example between Switzerland and France and on other journeys between France and Italy or Switzerland and Italy and found the border checks only a little inconvenient. Of course the growth in traffic, private and more importantly commercial since then will probably make a general re-introduction of border checks highly inconvenient. I can certainly foresee a time when the only open borders remaining will be those between the three Benelux countries, which abolished them for internal travel within the three in 1970, and perhaps France and/or Germany. As for the rest, well I wouldn't care to express a view about the longevity of open borders in any other part of the Schengen Area as currently defined.

Sources:
- EU migrant crisis: Schengen agreement "to be suspended for two years" as Brussels told to reinstate border controls (City A.M.)
- Migrant crisis RIPS EU apart: Schengen agreement SCRAPPED amid final bid to avert chaos (Daily Express)
- 60% of refugees are economic migrants: Dutch EU commissioner (DutchNews.nl)
- Greece pressed to improve Schengen checks (Deutsche Welle - dw.com)
- European Union (Official website of the European Union - Please choose a language)
- The Schengen area and cooperation (EUR-Lex Access to European Union law)
- Schengen Agreement (Wikipedia)

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