Dated: 18 October 2015
By Jacob Wilson
The growing refugee crisis has put the Schengen agreement, one of the European Union’s greatest achievements under pressure and attack.
In early September, German chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed more Syrian refugees to Germany and reassuringly said: “We will manage.” This was quickly tested as Germany’s generosity was pushed to its limit, with 450,000 people arriving by September 13 causing reintroduction of border controls alongside other bordering countries such as Austria and Slovenia. A recent internal report predicts 1.5 million people could find asylum by the end of the year, which would further exacerbate the problem.
Under Schengen law there is scope for border controls to be applied for ten days in appropriate circumstances, but due to the unprecedented nature of the refugee problem Germany sought a 20 day extension from the European Commission.
A European Commission official, who wished to not be named said the Commission accepted the need for extended border controls in Germany but stressed these measures needed to be “temporary” and “proportionate”.
“The Commission considers that we are now in an exceptional situation going beyond the general irregular migration threat, and that the reintroduction of border control could be justified given this exceptional situation,” the European Commission official said
Is Schengen Finished?
These circumstances ignited claims the Schengen agreement is under serious threat. Prominent far-right leaders Nigel Farage (UKIP) and Marine Le Pen (French National Front) went as far as to declare the Schengen agreement doomed.
European People’s Party spokesperson David Stellini conceded the Schengen agreement was under pressure but rejected claims it would fall apart.
“At the moment Schengen is under considerable pressure. Our job now is to restore Schengen as it was a few weeks ago,” he said.
“Politically, we know the big problem is not Schengen. The problem is that according to UNHCR 5000 people are crossing from Turkey to Greece everyday.”
Mr Stellini said if Member States prolonged border controls beyond the appropriate timeframe they could be subject to court proceedings.
“After those 20 days (expire) the Commission if it wants can start an infringement procedure,” he said.
“What that means is that the Commission can take these countries (Germany, Austria, Slovenia) to the European Court for not complying with the rules.”
What Schengen Means For Europe
Despite the refugee crisis putting genuine strain on the Schengen agreement, it is widely acknowledged as one of the most significant achievements of the EU. It is praised for allowing people to live, work and travel in Europe more freely. Mr Stellini highlighted the importance of maintaining the Schengen agreement.
“Schengen helps remove trade barriers and that is how you do business,” he said.
“People have gotten used to travelling to other EU countries without problems. When you take that for granted and reintroduce borders you have a lot of problems on highways waiting for hours to arrive over the border and countries begin to decline, economically speaking.”