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Will the Schengen Area survive the risks of terrorism and the migrant crisis?

“Will the Schengen Area survive? We will know on May 20th”. This is how Alberto Alemanno, European Union expert, professor of European law at HEC Paris, and member of the CNRS, opened the discussion at the European breakfast/debate organized by HEC Paris and the Viavoice Institute on April 20th. The event, which took place at the Rotonde Montparnasse, was chaired by the professor, who reminded attendees that the ongoing European migrant crisis will almost certainly last for another 20 or 30 years.

L'Espace Schengen survivra-t-il aux risques terroristes et à la crise des migrants ? - Conférence av Alberto Alemanno, Prof à HEC Paris

The future of the Schengen Area in question

"If the Schengen system is brought under scrutiny by the serious breakdowns concerning control of its exterior borders, the European Union could allow its member states to adopt their own temporary border controls for a limited period", underlined the law professor.

Alemanno added that if, on May 20th, the EU does allow its member states to maintain control of their internal borders, things will move slowly (just like a potential Brexit would) and that we will be entering into a period of transition, without rewriting existing treaties. These states will be able to close their borders at certain sections where there are weaknesses, highlighted the professor: "'if external borders are well protected, I do not think that, today, we could consider a questioning of free circulation of people in Europe. Indeed, if free movement was brought into question, I think that we would see a wake-up effect at a population level... The hope is that new generations would bring with them heavy pressure [to maintain Schengen]."

"These changes of policy and priority will, I think, determine the future of Schengen. I believe that we are going to protect the free movement of citizens in Europe, but this will entail a change of migration policy with a new asylum policy which heads in the right direction of distribution. This will entail a certain solidarity between member states." Alemanno added.

What economic effects for Europe if internal borders are reinstated permanently?

"Several studies have been carried out on this subject. One of them, "Returning to the spirit of Schengen", was published on March 4th by the European Commission. On page 4, there are estimations regarding the cost of the dissolution of Schengen. The document predicts a loss of between 1 and 5 billion through work and border trips. This would also have an impact on countries such as Slovenia, Slovakia and Hungary, and there would be a fallout in the tourist sector. There has already been a notable fall in tourism from Japan and the US following the terrorist attacks. We could therefore be talking about a loss of up to 13 million “tourist nights” across Europe as a whole", Alemanno explained.

Whatever happens, we must remember that, for some 20 years now, borders have not existed as there are no longer any controls on goods, and creating them would be no mean feat since, even on a physical level, it is difficult to reconstruct such barriers from one day to the next, Alemanno underlined.

The issue of mobility

"We currently have 1.7 million European citizens regularly crossing borders. For example in Luxembourg, more than 250,000 people cross the border from Germany, France or Belgium every day. The economy of Luxembourg could therefore crumble if these citizens were no longer able to go to work each morning and had to go through passport controls every day."

Statistics show that around 3% of European immigrants are living in another member state of the EU. However, Alemanno explained, 50% of Europeans move around the EU each year for work or tourism, which is a different form of mobility, since it implies a direct European experience. It is therefore even more important to mention this figure when we talk about mobility. Unfortunately, we do not have the realization today that Europe is a reality for 1 in 2 European citizens”, he added, continuing: “We have a very anachronistic idea of mobility. Today it signifies being exposed to different cultures and elements.”

A lack of teaching around the migrant crisis?

"Politicians often do not want to enter into pedagogy, since this approach goes against their electoral campaigns. Defending Europe does not serve elections today, while more than 50% of national legislation now comes from Europe. Voters see it as propaganda. In reality, Europe needs migrants. We must develop pro-active migratory policies which define what the priorities are for the workforce, but we do not have the political courage which is necessary to carry it out".

The EU-Turkey agreement

The idea which is taking shape is that of reinstallation, which is the most recent chapter in this migrant crisis. The agreement between Turkey and the European Union hinges on the principle of "one in one out" and means that migrants, for example non-regulated Syrian refugees, are sent back to Turkey. For each Syrian readmitted to Turkey, Europe is committing in exchange to reinstall another, from Turkish soil, on its territory. This mechanism is supposed to discourage illegal immigration into Greece. The EU has committed to grant Turkey 3 billion euros in order to carry out this agreement.

Alemanno concluded: "These measures will allow the survival of Schengen, but will neither solve its problems, nor introduce a paradigm shift in the manner in which we manage migratory fluxes. This paradigm shift of European migration fluxes is imperative: we need a solution for distribution when someone knocks on Europe’s door in order to spread the burden. The Commission has therefore brought to the table a series of propositions, including border controls, by way of an agency which would be able to manage this distribution solution and inform its member states about the number of migrants and how to manage the flux. It is true that there is still a great deal of political reticence at a national level, but nothing is impossible…"