Europe needs a ‘strong Schengen’ to facilitate European integration

The Schengen zone is at the heart of the European project and under no circumstances should it be broken up, writes Barbara Kudrycka.

By Barbara Kudrycka

17 Nov 2014

Discussion on Schengen is usually triggered by political motivations. The revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests has brought thousands of north African migrants to the shores of southern Europe.

Inevitably, this has sparked a serious refugee crisis. The displacement of people in these areas started a broad discussion about controlling the external borders of Europe, in particular undermining the borderless Schengen.

The most populist proposals attack freedom of movement, and the implementation of such proposals would symbolise a major step back and create borders between Europeans.

Only a strong Schengen area can stop home-grown jihadists. Schengen has powerful and sophisticated tools at its disposal, such as the second generation Schengen information system, which makes it possible to engage in secret surveillance of criminals and terrorists when necessary. These tools could be used more proactively.

"Schengen was expensive to implement, and it would be even more expensive to dismantle"

We should also build upon the knowledge that we have, and share our findings more effectively via the use of the different law enforcement agencies, through the supplementary information request at the national entry network.

However, the key responsibility to tackle the challenges of jihadists lies within the competencies of member states, therefore stronger trans-border cooperation is required.

The EU should define mechanisms to ensure border control is not used to repress citizens and third country nationals.

The Schengen agreement is practically irreversible. Schengen was expensive to implement, and it would be even more expensive to dismantle. Even though the practicalities of reinstating border controls at airports and motorways may be possible, the question remains how the borders would be reinstated along the long stretches of farm land and other green belt areas.

Over the past 20 years, Schengen has managed to dismantle these fences, roadblocks and the surveillance infrastructure across these borders, and it would probably take another 20 years to put them back. Europe cannot afford this expense, especially in light of the economic crisis.

"Only a strong Schengen area can stop homegrown jihadists"

In order to prevent illegal migrants from entering the Schengen zone, we should use the solutions and tools we have at our disposal, such as the European agency for the management of operational cooperation at the external borders of the member states of the EU (Frontex).

We cannot demand stronger European borders by increasing the budget and responsibility for Frontex, while starting discussions on how to establish checkpoints at Schengen’s internal borders. We must decide whether to focus on Schengen or Frontex.

Furthermore, we need to highlight Schengen’s positive attributes. A few years ago, Schengen’s legal text was altered to make it more secure and legally fit. As part of a new evaluation mechanism, the commission now submits two reports a year to parliament. These reports include recommendations as to how to address any deficiencies.

In addition, a mechanism was added to allow for the suspension of Schengen at internal borders, when required for security reasons.

The EU’s neighbourhood is eclectic and requires different approaches in the south and in the east. The east is relatively calm in terms of migratory pressures, but it needs constant attention as things may develop very rapidly, especially considering the situation in Ukraine.

Due to dynamic changes in the EU’s surrounding area, many links and arrangements have been broken. In some cases, it is difficult to know who to contact in third countries.

Freedom of movement is one of the EU’s biggest achievements and it is highly appreciated by its citizens. It is not just a convenience for commuters, travellers and tourists, though this is the aspect that the people of the EU most value.

Open borders diminish mental barriers and facilitate practical, cultural and emotional European integration. In order to make EU citizens’ security our common priority, we need to focus even more on the external dimensions of migration and security policies. A dialogue with third countries is essential.

We should bear in mind that Schengen represents both an opportunity and a challenge. If well managed, it could foster progress and benefit society. At its core, Schengen is a political and economic European project.