So started an interesting exchange of views about the future of Schengen yesterday – my tweet, and then a reply from European Commisson spokesperson Koen Doens:

Subsequent to the Twitter discussion, I’ve had some time to digest the letter Barroso sent back to Berlusconi and Sarkozy (you can find the PDF here) and, frankly, it’s not bad at all, and indeed contains plenty of positive points about how Schengen needs to be improved, although the letter does admit that reimposition of borders may be considered. The Guardian article to which I had linked only mentions the part about re-imposition of border controls, not the other answers provided by Barroso, notably to do with strengthening Frontex.

It strikes me that there is a game of brinksmanship going on here, and we are only hearing the side armed with a megaphone – Berlusconi (aided by his interior minister Maroni) and Sarkozy. On the other side we have the European Commission, and the Member States of northern Europe, who have rather little time for the protestations of the Italians, but are saying so in a more subtle, quiet manner, as with Barroso’s letter. This is the line from this Charlemagne blog post, and alluded to in the FT Brussels Blog here. Roderick Parkes also gives a good, comprehensive overview of the posturing, even questioning how serious the circumstances are that Italy is facing:

Back in March, Italy cried solidarity. Northerners resisted. So Rome regularised immigrants, sharing its problems with its immediate northerly neighbour France. Now France and Italy have teamed up to force support from their partners. If denied, they threaten to trigger the end of passport-free travel as we know it.

So what is the solution? The optimistic answer is that, so long as no real influx of immigrants materialises, the current panic will quickly resolve itself.

The problem with the protestations of Sarkozy and Berlusconi is that – knowing their appeals for assistance are going to fall on deaf ears – they step up the ‘put up the borders’ rhetoric, so much that the terms of the debate are changed, framing a re-establishment of border controls as the only viable solution (even if burden sharing is actually doing the job). With populist parties already on the rise across Europe, the Franco-Italian calls could be in danger of becoming a crescendo.

So how about a politician somewhere – in public – being willing to make an open, clear and determined defence of Schengen?

[UPDATE – 2.5.2011, 1800]
Thanks to a friend working on immigration policy I’ve been told that Germany took 432000 asylum seekers from the Western Balkans in 1992, while the number of Tunisians coming to Italy today is in the region of 25000. That would not seem to constitute ‘exceptional circumstances’, or at least less exceptional than Maroni speaks of. Amnesty has also gone as far as to argue that a lot of the issues in Lampedusa are of the Italians own making.


  1. Kallisti

    @Gawain Towler “When there is a major conflict with the ideals of Europe then the national will win. This is obvious to anybody, as the EU itself does not have a people.”

    No, this is obvious to anybody, as the EU itself does not have any powers nor a European electorate. A European electorate would become a European people, that is why it is stopped by the countries.

  2. European Citizen

    @ Finn

    Border Guards/Police have never been very fond of Schengen so it is not surprising that they are jumping on the bandwagon. They themselves know very well that borders are no barrier to organized crime. However, if the borders were to be restored, the Police would receive more money and jobs (e.g. Germany’s former Budesgrenzschutz had to be dismantled and is now part of the police. I can see why some boys may want the jobs back).

    1992 was also exceptional for Germany because of the pressures from reunification and the arrival of many ethnic Germans from former communist countries. They were not asylum seekers so the size of the influx was greater than the 432000. If you look at the statistics, you will see that Italy has previously coped with 30,000 asylum seekers in one year. However, the following year they concluded that shameful deal with Gadaffi so the numbers went down considerably. Now anything larger than a few thousand people per year is seen as ‘exceptional’.

  3. Hi there Jon,

    Thanks for your post on Schengen. I have yet to see someone defend it as well. However, it is not only in Italy and France you have anti Schengen rhetoric.

    Last week, the Association of Nordic Police Officers went out demanding publicly the reintroduction of border control between the Nordic countries and the Baltics. The justification they are using is not related to irregular migration from outside Europe, but to stem the increase of crime caused by mobile criminal networks from Latvia and Lithuania in particular. Here is a english version of the story:

    This demand will hardly get the support by the Governments, but it is another sign that Schengen is under attack, not only from the populist right in the South, but also from more “sober” Scandinavians. It the pressure continues, then maybe Sarkozy and Berlusconi will find some unlikely allies in Sweden, Finland and Denmark (with moral support from Norway)….

  4. European Citizen

    Barroso has always been more than happy to respond to demands from Member States, especially the big ones, which is why he got re-elected. I would not expect him to stand up to them. The Commission (and the EP) know that people think they lack legitimacy so they believe it is in their interest to be seen as ‘responsive’. Europe has currently no leaders willing to look beyond their narrow self-interests.
    The commission is already considering a mechanism for a “coordinated and temporary reintroduction of controls at one or several sections of the internal border. Such a mechanism would apply for a limited and pre-determined period of time, until other (emergency) measures have been taken to stabilise the situation at the relevant external border section either at European level, in a spirit of solidarity, and/or at national level, to better comply with the common rules”.
    ( )
    It is meant to be used as a last resort and in truly critical situations but I wonder who will decide what a ‘truly critical situation’ is. If it is left to the individual Member States, Schengen might be be jeopardized.

  5. There’s a difference between following public opinion and shaping it, communicating a vision. We’ve had a lot too much of the former recently!

  6. Gawain Towler

    Well, the point is that the National politicians have, by their very nature, to appeal to national electorates. For very good reasons. Barroso, in acceding in part to the loudest squeaks is only doing what he has to. When there is a major conflict with the ideals of Europe then the national will win. This is obvious to anybody, as the EU itself does not have a people.
    Thus it has nobody to appeal to, and no gut support from the people it purports to govern. Schengen and free movement of people is a noble ideal, but that is all it is, an ideal that may work in periods of ease, but will always come a cropper when faced with the reality of people’s hopes and fears.
    That is after all what we have democracy for, to reflect the wishes of the people, not the pious hopes of a class of people insulated against raw reality.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *