Monday, May 9, 2011

The easy option: Suspend the Schengen, bravo!

What a lovely act of unity, an inspirational example of Europe and its leaders acting in solidarity when dealing with difficult issues. What have we been witnessing for the past few weeks, when the crisis hit north Africans took to the boats to enter Europe, was the selfish and nationalist reaction of each E.U. state.

Trying to protect their own interests instead of seeing the problem as a European one, they took their time and lots of debate to find a solution to a common problem, only to come to a decision that protects national interests first.

It is well known that the southern and eastern E.U. states receive the bulk of illegal immigrants that want to reach the European labor market. But of course they are not necessarily the desired destination. Most immigrants that reach Malta, Greece, Italy and Spain desire to start a new life in the more developed northern or western states, Germany, France, Britain, the Benelux and the Scandinavian states.

The problem is not national one, rather a European one. One would think that the response should come with a united front. Bit in every occasion the problem was mainly dealt on a national level, with only some help coming from FRONTEX. Each country defended its own immigration policies and the countries that did not have external borders with non EU/ Schengen states, were not as willing to share the problem.

So recently Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Sarkozy kick-started a new debate on suspending the Schengen Agreement, at least temporarily in response of the mass exodus of the Arabs from North Africa. It is not unheard to do so, and it will not be the first time that it happened. A Schengen state is permitted by articles 23 to 31 of the Schengen Borders Code, to reinstate border controls for a short period if deemed in the interest of national security, but has to follow a consultation procedure before such an action.

This occurred in Portugal during the 2004 European Football Championship and in France for the ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Spain temporarily reinstated border controls during the wedding of Crown Prince Felipe in 2004. It was used again by France, Finland, Germany, Austria and Malta at some stage on different occasions regarding security concerns during sport events, terror attacks in London or visits of important religious or political figures.

But here we do not have a problem that will last a few days or weeks. We do not know how long it will last, or how many people will attempt to enter Europe. We are not dealing with fans of a foot ball team, rather with desperate refugees that need to be treated humanly. Also we need to decide if, how many and in which countries will we allocate them. It is impossible for one single country to bare the weight of such humanitarian crisis, especially since it is a European problem.

Slowly many other states shared Berlusconi's and Sarkozy's views and in meetings they debated the temporary suspension of the Schengen Agreement. Instead of discussing the possibility of dealing with the issue in a united front, they preferred to reintroduce border controls in the internal borders of EU states.

Alternatively we could be coordinating all efforts at the borders of EU/Schengen and sharing the responsibilities and the decisions, but the Italians decided to grand visas to many Tunisians without the agreement of the French. The French stopped them at their borders with Italy, since most of them being French speakers, headed to France as soon as they got their visas.

That shows what a farce Europe's immigration policies are and the cracks in European unity. The Schengen Agreement is one of the symbols of a united Europe and E.U. one of the main rights of every EU citizen is the freedom of movement.

Rather than sending more patrols to the outer EU borders comprised and funded by all E.U. states, they preferred to act on the populist reactions and wishes of the public. Threat of more immigrants, quick close OUR borders! Our leaders decided to suspend one of our main E.U. citizen rights "temporarily", expecting that they will make a better decision later on, or that the crisis will simply pass.

We have had enough of seeing another of the European symbols, the euro, with a doubtful future. We experienced the divisions of the European public opinion, over the loans needed to stabilize the euro-zone and the sharpening of the gap between the rich and poor in Europe. Now we see Europe reinstalling its borders and not just in one state but potentially all of them.

This could definitely could lead to the redesigning of the Schengen Agreement and changing the way we travel for good. Is Europe imploding back to what it was before, turning to a more nationalist, conservative and protectionist continent?

Because if you have immigration problems, you simply deal with them not by redesigning the freedom of movement, but the immigration policies of Europe. Meanwhile, what will be the new changes on the terms we will be traveling from now on? Remember what happened after the terror attacks in the UK and the airport regulations that followed.

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