Expert: Schengen on verge of breakup as EU countries reluctant to follow own commitments
22 March 2016. PenzaNews. The Schengen area is on the verge of dissipation, yet the European states are acting too slow to protect the free movement within the European Union, writes Carmen González-Enríquez, senior analyst on International Demography, Population and Migration at the Elcano Royal Institute, in her article “Schengen: A collective asset no one stands up for” published in the foreign media.
She points out that many politicians, such as the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of France Francois Hollande and the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, on many occasions expressed their disappointment over the slow reaction by EU countries and warned of significant risks for the European market and the euro.
“The Commission calculated in January  that the restoration of border controls within the Schengen zone had already cost the EU’s economy 3 billion euros, primarily due to the slowdown in road-borne international trade,” the expert writes.
According to her, back in the summer of 2015, when the first border closures had taken place in the Eastern Europe, the majority of observers believed the European Union would react with a set of concerted measures to protect Schengen. However, in reality, the situation took a turn for the opposite, as the rise in numbers of migrants and refugees the Schengen Agreement was temporarily suspended in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Belgium and Norway, as well as in France that still remains in a state of emergency after the November 2015 terrorist attacks.
From the analyst’s point of view, the present Schengen crisis is a perfect illustration of the “free-rider effect” well studied by political science and economics.
As Carmen González-Enríquez reminds, collective assets in use by all citizens, such as security, healthcare and transportation, require individual expenditure in the form of taxes of complying with certain norms.
“If the majority of drivers ignored traffic lights, if the majority of individuals failed to pay taxes, if nobody bothered to take their domestic waste to the nearest collection point or if the majority gave free rein to their instincts when reacting to people who annoy them, we would not enjoy security or orderly traffic or public health and hygiene,” she states.
Along with the united currency and the European market, Schengen is one of EU’s most important collective assets, not only objectively but also symbolically, and public polls reaffirm this position, as the expert notes; however, as recent events shown, there are certain governments that continue to think it possible to evade their responsibilities to the European Union and ride through the current crisis by placing the burden on other shoulders.
“They are not sending the experts needed to ensure the functioning of the hotspots [refugee registration and temporary accommodation centers] in Italy and Greece, without which the reception, registration, distribution and return mechanism is impossible, nor are they sending personnel and resources to Frontex, nor are they contributing the funds they promised to Turkey; rather, they erect all possible obstacles to prevent the acceptance of refugee quotas,” Carmen González-Enríquez thinks.
To confirm her words, she points out that the February 18-19 extraordinary EU summit resulted in a successful review of the EU reforms package proposed by the United Kindgom, yet with no significant progress on resolving the Schengen crisis in spite of the urgency of the problem.
According to the expert, the biggest problems in this respect arose during negotiations with former Socialist republics, now countries of the Eastern Europe.
“With their ‘No to everything’ stance on the refugee crisis, they have opened a wide rift and they are rendering a united European solution impossible,” writes the senior analyst of the Elcano Royal Institute.
From her point of view, the reason behind this stance is that the Eastern European countries never experienced immigration on a large scale or refugees, while their people never lived with a population of Muslims and have a negative perception of them.
Moreover, as the analyst points out, other members of the European Union also appear to be somewhat reluctant to stand for EU’s main collective asset – such as from the reports of a “mini-Schengen” in the making, comprising only the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria and France and isolated from the EU southern borders, which appeared in the Western media in December 2015 and led to big public outcry.
According to Carmen González-Enríquez, that initiative seemed stillborn long right from the onset, apart from the fact that the emergence of a “Schengen in Schengen” would have completely shattered the mutual trust between the European states.
“The group concerned [the ‘mini-Schengen’] would have to share the same policy vis-a-vis refugees and France has already stated that it will not accept any more, thereby placing itself in opposition to Angela Merkel, who continues backing an open doors policy,” the expert writes.
In her opinion, if the situation does not undergo a radical change in the nearest future, the European Union risks encountering the worst-case scenario where a post-Merkel German government influenced by the changing public opinion would choose to prevent an increase in arrival of refugees by all means possible, which in practice would begin the breakup of the European Union.
The illegal European immigration issue grew in importance in July 2015, as thousands of refugees – most of them from Syria and Afghanistan – suddenly began arriving to the EU along the Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean routes through Greece, Macedonia and Hungary.
The European Commission called the current migration crisis is the largest since the Second World War. According to Eurostat, over 1.25 million people submitted applications for asylum in a European country in 2015 – a record-breaking figure. Overall, at least 1.8 million refugees and illegal migrants crossed the EU borders over the past year, while the forecast for the current year is additionally more than 1 million people.
In an attempt to regain control over the situation, the European Commission has developed a system of hotspots – centers in Greece and Italy for screening, temporary residence and distribution of asylum seekers in accordance with long-term national migrant quotas. However, several Central and Eastern European countries actively opposed the plan.
In the meantime, Austria, Germany, Hungary, France, Malta, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Belgium, Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia lost control over the inflow of refugees and temporarily restored border controls by suspending the Schengen Agreement.
As per the agreement reached in negotiations with Ankara, starting from 20 March 2016 the illegal migrants that reach Greece islands will be returned back to Turkey. In return, the EU agreed to abolish visas with Ankara by summer, allocate a total of 6 billion euros for the program by the end of 2018, and accept Syrian refugees from Turkey on a one-for-one basis.
Ankara hopes this agreement will help advance the process of Turkey joining the EU. However, the March plan already became a target for criticism by many politicians and experts, including in Europe.