#Schengen is not same as free movement

| February 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

EU-Insight-Balancing-Open-Borders-and-Security-eithin-Europes-Schengen-Area-612x336One of the problematic aspects in both broader EU debates and the Brexit discussion is mixing up categories. So there is an elision between the passport free Schengen controls and free movement of EU citizens as one of the 4 EU freedoms. (Note the reference is to EU citizens, not to non-EU citizens or refugees, or economic migrants.)

There is also a mix-up between free trade and the single market. Put simply there is free trade with the USA but no single market. The US banned British beef until 2013 and banned UK steel imports as an electioneering gimmick by George W Bush in 2000.  The Buy America Acts are openly protectionist. Despite NAFTA, Mexican lorry drivers have to off-load Corona Beers onto trucks driven by protectionist Teamster Union members to be delivered in the US.

The EU Single market means British meat products can be sold anywhere and a lorry can load up with Marmite or Muffins in Preston and deliver them to Portugal or Poland without checks at each frontier.

Similarly Schengen is not about free movement but a convenience for businesses and to a lesser extent citizens to drive or walk across frontiers without being stopped for passport checks.  It has never applied to airline travel as anyone can confirm who boards Easyjet or Ryanair, the main transporters of Poles and other East European EU citizens to and from the UK.

There used to be very long queues pumping CO2 into the mountain air of Mont Blanc to cross from France into Italy and those have gone.

There was free movement before Schengen and even if Schengen were scrapped free movement would continue.

Under Schengen rules it is possible to put in place border controls in cases of uncontrolled movement such as we have seen with refugees from Middle East and Africa.

But it is unlikely that Schengen will disappear. I lived in France in the 1980s well before Schengen and it was easy to cross into Switzerland on smaller roads. So unless you put up barbed wire and minefields on the thousands of small road crossings between continental nations you cannot stop people crossing a border.

The European Commission says going back to internal border controls on a long-term basis is likely to cost 18€ billion. This is just the direct cost and excludes possible secondary effects.

“If a process is set in motion putting at risk the depth of economic integration, including the proper functioning of economic and monetary union, the medium-term indirect costs may be dramatically higher than direct estimates,” the Commission said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said the restrictions introduced already will cost the 3€ bn while the French Strategie think tank estimated the cost of abolishing Schengen at 110€ bn by 2025, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Ending Schengen would have no impact of movement of EU workers into the UK. The UK is a useful control for the rest of Schengen in the sense that the UK is not part of Schengen and you have to show passports to enter the UK. Nonetheless the UK has a high level of inward immigration from EU and non-EU countries and there are 136,000 refugees registered as asylum seekers who have managed to get to Britain without papers. So being out of Schengen has had had little impact.  Look at America with very tough passport controls and visa requirement and yet there are 11 million illegal immigrants there.

In the European region the way to solve these problems is to stop destroying states like Iraq and Libya and Syria. Second we need economic development in North Africa and the Middle East.  The collapse of the price of oil will send millions of oil refugees from Nigeria, Algeria, Angola northward to Europe.

No-one shows a passport when they arrive on a Greek or Italian island fleeing war, terror, or economic misery. Schengen permits temporary suspensions when such movements become socially dislocating. Thus France in recent years has controlled passports on trains coming from Italy into France and as we have seen last year different countries have put up different border arrangements to try and slow down or control the refugee tsunami which was made infinitely worse by Mrs Merkel’s invitation to a million Syrian and other refugees to come to Europe.

Her diktat that other EU member states should accept refugees she invited to come has, to put it mildly, not gone down well and produced a backlash from different leaders as well as provoking populist anger especially against Muslim arrivals some of whom do not behave in a docile grateful manner and some of whom import non-European traditions on treatment of women.

The Europe of the 1960s saw the mass movement of millions of southern European as well as from the former UK, French, and Dutch colonies all arriving to help grow the then EEC economies as well as the UK and Nordic countries. After 1990, the same happened with people from former communist countries. West Germany even went so far so to offer a home and West German living standards to 11.6 million East Germans.  Of course, that was done in the name of reunification but accepting nearly 12 million people from a broken, third-world economy put huge strain on not only the then West Germany but on the rest of Europe.  One of these offered a new home and a new life was of course Angela Merkel!

A full abolition of Schengen could start the process of abolishing free movement – the return to national control of frontiers to use the preferred phrase of London Mayor Boris Johnson and every UKIP spokesperson. The danger is that once you start protectionism in one area, it can grow in others. Schengen may need to be suspended given Merkel’s foolish invitation to millions of Middle Eastern victims of jihadi terror and war to come to Europe but it makes no sense to say to Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg citizens that they have to wait in queues showing their passport to cross a border to work or go shopping.

There are plenty of calls for more national rules and protections from different economic sectors like farming, medical workers, insurance and pension schemes, university teaching, or old industries struggling to survive especially those which are energy-intensive. Once you bring in protectionist measures on free movement of citizens this will stretch further afield.           

Abolishing Schengen will not help combat the real and present danger of Islamist terror. Terrorism is controlled by good policing and intelligence. No terrorist has ever ben caught by border checks Most of the terror attacks in recent years from the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s to the Islamist attacks in Madrid in 2004, London 2005 and Paris last year were undertaken by people who lived inside the country attacked.

Britain is not in Schengen so not directly affected. British lorry drivers and holiiday makers may get fed up with endless queues to cross borders as they head for the sun in the summer or seek to move goods in and other of the UK

Most in Europe have an Identity Card so you police always check people if needed.  Nor should Brits forget that the UK and Ireland have their own mini Schengen called the CTA – Common Travel Area – so no-one checks who crosses from the UK to Ireland along the border between Ireland and Ulster. So once the refugee crisis dies down and there is some evidence that the flow of people has been reduced as Mrs Merkel is now slowly withdrawing her invitation the pressure will ease.

Much depends on the flow of refugees. Clearly we cannot turn Greece and southern Italy into giant camps for refugees coming through Turkey and Libya. As we saw in the Balkan wars of 1990s when a million people fled from tiny Kosovo alone you cannot stop people fleeing from terror and violence. ISIS was not around in the 1990s but Serb soldiers in formal or paramilitary squads were pretty good at creating huge refugee flows out of areas they targeted for ethnic cleansing.

So we may see temporary suspension of Schengen as and when it is needed to slow down mass arrivals from the Middle East and Africa.  But the idea of Europe going back to full-on passport controls and searches of every car and lorry between Spain and France or Germany and Denmark would not be accepted by people. And if Europe does limit or abolish free movement under the rights of European Citizenship then it is hard to see the EU continuing to exist.

Denis MacShane is a former Labour minister and author of Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe (IB Tauris)


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Category: A Frontpage, Denis Macshane, EU, EU borders, Labour, Opinion, Schengen, Schengen area

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