Ever since the introduction of the Schengen agreement on 14 June 1985, the fears of an open border have finally been realized, through the cost of innocent human lives. Twenty years ago, the EU consisted of ten states and was manageable, although only six agreed to be part of the Schengen pact (France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg,) Denmark, the UK, Ireland, Greece, and Italy declined to join at the time. While the UK still retains the right to police their own borders, other countries have been blighted with issues of illegal immigrants, refugees being smuggled in, illegal drugs and weapons smuggling, human trafficking, and the latest threat—allowing ease of movement for terrorists. Despite having borders, the UK has encountered illegal immigrants via Calais, when they smuggle their way in through the Eurotunnel and lorries on ferries. The French can’t cope, and once they have left French soil, the immigrants are no longer their problem. Therefore, France’s carelessness leads to other countries having to deal with what was initially their problem.
With the recent attacks and terrorist threats, border controls are being put back in place in the interests of national security, but isn’t a bit a late as most terrorists are already hidden within an EU country and untraceable? The surge of refugees and asylum seekers swarmed the European borders, once Germany announced its door were open. Yet, these refugees did not come in peace, but attacked border police, threw fire bombs over the fences, and demanded to be let in.
The emergency measures under Schengen in place are only allowed under certain conditions, which after the Paris attacks on 13 November 2015 were enacted through a national state of emergency. This allowed France to officially organize its own border controls, to prevent the terrorists from escaping. Earlier in the year, those responsible for the Charlie Hebdo shootings were able to flee, due to the Schengen agreement, as the suspect was able to travel to Turkey without a single border check from France. Did the EU not learn from this?
Germany reintroduced border controls when it opened its borders to refugees, and then found it couldn’t cope. Hungary was forced to close off its borders when illegal immigrants, refugees and migrants tried to get to Germany via their borders. Currently Schengen countries can control the borders for 10 days, in the interests of national security, and then up to 20 days, for a maximum of two months. Clearly each country must have some control, and not for the limited time imposed by regulations However, given the situation, I doubt France will be concerned about over stepping the two month period. Belgium has imposed some border controls, once they discovered the French attackers had made a base near the Belgian border, leading to a lockdown for several days of the capital city Brussels. Schengen has worked to the terrorists’ advantage, and while those apprehensions always existed, the authorities (due to budget cuts) were not prepared and has led to the loss of innocent lives.
That is not to say terrorism cannot happen with patrolled borders, but it makes it harder for a terrorist to enter a country as they get monitored, and escape is made more difficult. Besides not being able to trace their movements, each country needs to share information, however, this is not uniform across all countries. The shared border concept was intended to unite the countries, so people could move freely, however, that includes criminals and terrorists.
The recent expansion of the Schengen area to 22 EU countries (26 Schengen countries in total including non EU countries of Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein) creates a single border, where an EU passport holder, once inside of these countries can travel freely without further checks. Airports may have more secure checks, but traveling by car, sea or rail usually incurs no checks. Here is where the loopholes and dangers lie. Perhaps the local police follow drug dealers and track criminals across the borders, but it makes their job more difficult and easier for the criminal to find a border crossing point.
With the recent threats, each country is now taking their own measures, which includes bending or ignoring any EU regulations. It works for France or Germany as the principal EU members, but that wasn’t the case when Hungary tried to control its borders and was forced to open them under EU regulations. The refugee and migrant crisis, coupled with terrorism threats is making each sovereign state rethink how they can protect themselves. Like most, opening doors and creating an open border is the first thing to close off. You wouldn’t leave your front door open or unlocked for all to come in, and neither should individual states if they want to protect their citizens. The UK believed this to be the case, and while it doesn’t make the UK less of a target, they are able to implement more secure procedures, without having to abide by rules that were made by others.
The dangers of Schengen outweigh the benefits, and innocent lives have been lost due to prove this point, and has facilitated numerous criminal activities—ones that the EU Parliament would not like to admit to. Is showing a passport at a border for the extra few minutes it takes worth all of this? The simple answer is no, if a country chooses not to have a border check point then that is their right, but they should consider who will take advantage of that, and whether it keeps its citizens safe from intruders?
Prevention is better than cure; a lesson the French and Belgians are learning. Schengen cannot continue with its present guidelines. Even the U.S. has changed the visa waiver scheme to prevent visitors from certain countries from arriving without a full visa check. I anticipate more countries will be implementing border checks, so the days of Schengen are numbered until the refugees stop arriving, and terrorism is over. Then what is the lesson learned? Individual states that have control of their borders can protect their citizens, terrorists can be caught, or suspects’ movements monitored or traced. Ideologies don’t always work, and here is a case where it hasn’t, and it’s best to repair the damage and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
A compromise would be a visa-free Europe, however, that doesn’t resolve the issue of monitoring migrants. Criminals could easily move to another EU country where they have no record, and start a new life without being checked. Sadly this was the case for Alice Gross, who was murdered by a Latvian migrant, who was a convicted murderer in his home country. This goes beyond the dismantling of Schengen, but the EU free movement of people, without other countries having access to criminal records. How can a country keep its citizens safe under the idealistic EU regulations? How many more attacks or deaths have there been or could have been prevented? Each country has a right to protect their borders, and the time to put citizens first is now, rather than trying to prove that the EU model is a success. The deaths of the 130 innocent murdered in Paris on November 13 have shown that the EU, with its policies has failed its citizens, and its time for each country to look after their own, as they have done for centuries.
While there are talks to suspend Schengen rules, the problem is that it can never go back to what it was. The EU was lucky that it lasted as long as it did, however, how many criminals have slipped through and stayed under the radar? There is talk of Greece being suspended from Schengen due to the influx of immigrants that reside there. Is that fair on the Greek nationals, where they have been forced under EU regulations to take in refugees and immigrants? The EU doesn’t seem to have any solutions or options; have they considered the option of disbanding the Schengen agreement? It would then hand over the responsibility of monitoring border controls back to the country concerned, simple, but that means that the EU Parliament will have to admit they were wrong.