refugee crisis

Schengen Is Dead? Long Live Schengen!

Refugees_Sentilj 30.10.2015., Sentilj, Slovenia - Refugees waiting at the border crossing to enter Austria. PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxHUNxONLY SasaxDespot/Zurnal24l/PIXSELL 30 10 2015 Slovenia Refugees Waiting AT The Border Crossing to Enter Austria PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxHUNxONLY SasaxDespot Zurnal24l PIXSELL
Faced with war and poverty, refugees are coming to Europe.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    European countries should do all they can to help refugees – but the borders and free movement within the region enshrined in the Schengen agreement still matter for Europe, argues the former president of the European Commission.

  • Facts


    • The Schengen agreement was signed 30 years ago.
    • The Shengen area comprises 26 European countries which dropped passport and other controls at their shared borders.
    • The influx of refugees has led some countries to renew internal border controls, a measure only allowed temporarily under Schengen under extraordinary conditions.
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The massive influx of asylum seekers in the E.U. has triggered a welcome display of solidarity both towards the refugees and among the member states, but it has also raised major questions regarding our ability to ensure the effective monitoring of what are now our common external borders.

We call on the heads of state and government to address this unprecedented influx on the basis of a clear political vision: the refugees are victims, they are not a threat, and the European people are sufficiently strong to face the long-term challenge of taking them in and integrating them.

The member states must all be convinced of the fact that no single one of them is neglecting its duty to monitor our common borders.

We call on the heads of state and government to extend their aid to those countries that are currently taking in the majority of Syrian asylum seekers (Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon) in order to allow the asylum seekers to remain in their region of origin. 

We also call on them to strengthen the monitoring of our borders, in particular by stepping up the struggle against human traffickers and organized crime, and thus also by optimizing the exchange of information at the police and intelligence services level.

To achieve this aim, the heads of state and government have the good fortune to have available to them numerous European police and judiciary cooperation tools including the Schengen Information System, Europol, Frontex, and the European Asylum Support Office, which they need to use and to diversify in order to tackle the crisis. 

It is crucial that they mobilize these tools both for reasons of efficiency – a country acting on its own is powerless – and also in order to bolster mutual confidence among the member states.

The member states must all be convinced of the fact that no single one of them is neglecting its duty to monitor our common borders. The recent creation of European centers for the identification and handling of asylum seekers (“hotspots”) in Greece and in Italy falls within that European rationale.

We must show solidarity with these countries for the sake of generosity, of course, but also in order to resume control over the situation on “our” borders. Furthermore, we must extend this move towards Europeanization without delay: by setting up a European coast guard and border guard corps; with operations at sea under the banner of the United Nations; by bolstering Frontex, including with procedures for the expulsion of illegal immigrants; by creating European routes for legal immigration, and other such measures.

While the Schengen regulations do indeed allow for the temporary reintroduction of national border monitoring in the event of a crisis, it is in no one’s interest for such a situation to last forever on account of the exorbitant economic and financial cost that it entails. While the return to national borders’ monitoring may be an option, it is certainly not a solution!

The Schengen Agreement was signed 30 years ago, and subsequently extended to benefit 400 million Europeans, precisely in order to allow lorry drivers, border workers and companies that export their goods throughout Europe to stop wasting time – as everyone knows, time is money.

Costly and falsely reassuring fixed border monitoring was replaced by mobile border checks, by the development of European police cooperation and by a strengthening of monitoring on our external borders precisely in order to bolster our customs and police officers’ effectiveness. A step back into the past would be tantamount to losing sight of the wood for the trees. While all the Europeans – workers, small and medium businesses, taxpayers, etc. – would unquestionably suffer from the move, who would actually benefit from it?

Full use needs to be made of the “Schengen” tool also in order to better address the challenge of terrorism. We should remember that an overwhelming majority of the 141 articles in the convention regulating the Schengen agreement’s implementation are designed to organize police and judiciary cooperation among the member states’ national authorities – a form of cooperation so useful that even non-Schengen countries such as the United Kingdom have decided to opt into it. “Schengen” means at one and the same time more freedom and more security, two areas of progress which need to be consolidated in parallel.

The emotional response to a terrorist attack undoubtedly rekindles a need for reassurance which may crystalize in the shape of a return to domestic border monitoring in view of those borders’ importance in our collective imagination.

But our desire for security can be more effectively met within the framework of the Schengen area.

Terrorist attacks are often perpetrated by nationals, both in Europe and elsewhere, but they have international roots, so they, too, call for European and international responses. Terrorists are often people known to the police, to the legal system, and to the intelligence services, so we will be able to combat terrorist attacks more effectively by earmarking additional legal, human and financial resources to these services, including through the adoption of a European PNR [Passenger Name Record], rather than by allocating those resources in a sterile manner to the monitoring of internal borders within the Schengen area, squandering them on pointlessly checking the hundreds of millions of European citizens who cross them every month. 

Schengen is the precondition for our security: if we are to defeat terrorism, our strength lies in unity, because disunity leaves us defenceless. We need both to safeguard and to expand Schengen in the face of international crises, shirking the dangerous temptation to fall back on national borders – a move which would damage the people of Europe without in any way bolstering their security.

Let’s get more united in the face of new challenges, in a spirit of cooperation and of solidarity, so that Schengen may live – long live Schengen!


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