Today’s headlines incite the usual frenzy that the EU is in crisis, and national sovereignties are being threatened. This being thanks to Jean Claude Juncker’s European Commission proposals for the Schengen area. New measures to be adopted by June 2016 include the creation of an EU Border and Coast Guard, systematic checks on anyone entering the EU through external borders, and an enhanced border control agency derived from the existing Frontex.
As EU leaders met at the European Council in Brussels, the experts were meeting to discuss the new proposals for the Schengen area, and concerns were raised on human rights. At the conference entitled “30 years of Schengen: Challenges for the EU in times of crisis” held by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) on the 17th and 18th December, experts were not so worried about the impact of Juncker’s proposals on the future of Europe and the EU, but rather that the new border policies need to ensure that they “are in full compliance with fundamental human rights obligations”.
Jean-Louis de Brouwer, the EU Director of Humanitarian and Civil Protection Operations, criticised humanitarian agencies’ views as being short-sighted.“Stop thinking that it is through providing increased food rations to displaced peoples in the camps that you will make them happy and not want to move.”
He then went on to argue that the Schengen reform proposals are needed, because the migration and terrorism pressures are here to stay. With the escalation in bombing on ISIS-controlled territories in Syria, as well as the planned Iraqi operation to retake the city of Mosul, there will be more refugees heading to Europe. Not only that, but they are going to want to keep moving once they reach the external borders of the Schengen area. We need the reforms, but we need to be aware of the risk of creating human walls around Europe’s external borders.
The proposals need to ensure that they are in line with fundamental human rights, and more specifically refugee rights. The calls by several member states for the external border countries to harden their controls are being called “hypocritical”, as they are in contravention to international obligations under the Refugee Convention, as well as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. CEPS is calling for refugee-friendly external border controls, as well as a permanent relocation system that would reinforce solidarity.
“the language of “crisis” is exaggerated. We have a Schengen crisis, a refugee crisis, a security crisis...it’s never-ending.
Many are comparing the so-called Schengen crisis with the Eurozone crisis of 4 years ago, stating that the entire European project is under threat. However, according to Sergio Carrera (Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Justice and Home Affairs Programme at CEPS in Brussels): “the language of “crisis” is exaggerated. We have a Schengen crisis, a refugee crisis, a security crisis...it’s never-ending. The press has been sending a very exaggerated picture: the member States that have reintroduced border controls have done it in accordance with the rules of the Schengen borders code. So which crisis are we talking about?”
On the other hand, De Brouwer argues that “these days Schengen is presented with an unprecedented situation thanks to an extreme terrorist threat and migration pressures”. He then went on to state that “there is a crisis. But it is not a border crisis, but a crisis of state and collective identity.
There is a price to pay for Schengen and the Eurozone. That is the transfer of sovereignty away from individual member states into a centralized European government.
There is also increased concern with the number of identity controls being carried out on Muslims in the EU. Since the Paris attacks in November, over 2,200 house raids have been carried out in France. The vast majority targeted in the raids were Muslim. Amongst CEPS’ recommendations are identity checks within the internal borders of the Schengen area that are “proportionate, non-discriminatory, and responsible”, and should only be carried out when there is a reasonable suspicion of crime.
"Schengen is here to stay”, but so are migration and terrorism pressures. The reform proposals are necessary, and CEPS’ recommendations are important. They warn the EU to not leave their fundamental values aside in times of high pressure such as the ones currently being faced.
What the Schengen crisis has made clear is that the current balance of power between nation states and the EU is testing European legitimacy. As De Brouwer concluded, “There is a price to pay for Schengen and the Eurozone. That is the transfer of sovereignty away from individual member states into a centralized European government.”
Refugees are not going to stop reaching our external borders. Unless we want to build human walls around Europe, we need to ensure that the new Schengen agreements will keep the balance between freedom of movement and respect for fundamental human rights, with the management of the terror threat.
The Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) is holding a conference on the 17th and 18th December called “30 years of Schengen: Challenges for the EU in times of crisis”. They are holding panels with academics and politicians, as well as open discussion sessions. For further information on the event, follow the link here.