Alberto Mingardi  

Schengen, adieu

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No Plan for What Comes After... Demography and Decency...

A few weeks ago I flew in and out of France - and I had to show my identity card at passport control. This was not that much of a nuisance, to be fair, and security officers were most kind, as if they had the sense that they were performing a delicate, and controversial, operation.

The Schengen Treaty was implemented in 1995, which means that for a person like me, a Western European born in 1981, this was effectively the first time in my life that I had to show my ID on the way to France. The refugee crisis on the one hand, and the terrorist attacks in Paris on the other, are creating a public opinion climate certainly favourable to the reinstatement of borders and a farewell to Schengen.

The European Union is a mixed bag, as are all human things, but Schengen granted people that freedom of movement that people valued, remembering life under the bombs in WWII and later in the face of the Iron Curtain that was dividing Europe in two. If Schengen is over, the EU will be over soon. Moving unchecked all around the continent is one of the very few things which gives people an impression of political unity. Take this away, and the justification for Brussels' meddling bureaucracy will appear even weaker to national voters who are increasingly less willing to swallow it.

Rosemary Righter on Politico.eu disagrees and notes:

So what will be lost when Schengen has ceased to be? The essence of being European? The concept of a European identity?

Rubbish. On the contrary, I think the citizens of the EU's nation-states will feel rather more relaxed about "Europe" once they believe they have some measure of control again over their own frontiers.


I doubt people have much of a "concept of a European identity", save the few of us lucky enough to live by words and great ideals. But everybody has political demands, and understands what institutions can meet them. If the demand for security can be met by nation states, and the EU cannot deliver, people's loyalty will further shift away from an institution that they once considered salvific, but now see as bureaucratic and wasteful.

I do not particularly care about the future of the EU. But what about the future of liberty?

Moving around without showing an identification sign may seem trivial, but it is liberty. When national IDs were introduced first, people who cared about liberty were hysterical: the system resembled a totalitarian device to track individuals down. Now it is common, and protesting against the demise of Schengen is seen as a bit childish.

I have difficulties in understanding when people talk about border controls. If you do not build the famous wall over the border with Mexico, borders tend to be porous: they are imaginary lines, after all. England can certainly control immigration better, as they're an island and people are unlikely to swim across the Channel. But what about Germany and Austria? What about Spain and France?

Imagine a Europe of city-states. Controlling borders is relatively easy: because of the limited territory of each sovereign power (let's assume that any of these small units is affluent enough to maintain the necessary police powers). But when we come to a Europe of nation states, the picture becomes much different. To the best of my understanding, border controls were lousy before WWI - and couldn't be otherwise.

Effective border controls require extensive police powers, plenty of manpower employed by the military, and yes, some equivalent of the wall all along the Texas border. Hungary's 4 metre-high fence along a 110-mile border is not a crazy way of doing immigration policy: it seems to me it's pretty much the only way you have, if you really want to have efficient border control. Even with such a fence, it is dubious that people that really want to get in, won't succed somehow to find their way, necessity being the mother of creative solutions.

Checking people's passports at the airport is not much of a solution. Airline tickets bear the name of the passenger and thus can be controlled well before boarding, bags are checked and x-rayed. Can't you find who you're looking for, if you know who you're looking for, before he shows you a forged passport? It seems to me that this kind of initiative is a government facade: pretend you're doing something, so that people feel safer. But the facade of crisis management costs us liberty.

I linked, a few weeks ago, to a great piece by Chandran Kukathas, who pointed out that immigration control is really controlling everyone's lives, regardless of where they are born. That seems to me even more relevant, now that Europeans are thinking about a response to both the refugee crisis and terrorism.


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CATEGORIES: Eurozone crisis




COMMENTS (10 to date)
Matt Moore writes:

Good post.

Pedantry alert: England is not an island. Nor is the UK. Great Britain is.

Seems relevant in a post partially about national identity

Vasilis Kostelidis writes:

Please forgive my bad English.

[I do not particularly care about the future of the EU]
I actually care a lot about the EU. Many things that now exist, would not exist without it.

Free trade betweem the EU member states, seems impossible without the EU. I don't think France or Greece would open their borders for free trade without the EU. The benefits of free trade are not obvious to people. Sure there are free trade agreements with Switzerland or Norway, but would the French people agree to that? Lepen won so many votes, and apart from other things, she runs a pure Mercantilist party.

But what frightens me the most about the abolition of the EU is war. 70 years before the EU, there were three major wars, two of them were world wars.

Now, 70 years after the EU was born, there have been no wars between it's member states, which is amazing. My parents never had to worry about war, while their parents lived in a state of perpetual threat of war.

If the abolition of the EU means the closing of borders and restricted trade, this will mean poverty and a huge decline of the standard of living. From there on, it is not very difficult to imagine that wars will emerge.

I am not an economist/political scientist/historian, but this is a scenario that seems plausible to me.

Vasilis Kostelidis writes:

Some mistakes I made:
1. Between, not betweem.
2. It is 64 years since the EU was born, not 70.

Matt Moore writes:

[Now, 70 years after the EU was born, there have been no wars between it's member states, which is amazing. My parents never had to worry about war, while their parents lived in a state of perpetual threat of war.]

Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy

[If the abolition of the EU means the closing of borders and restricted trade]

I don't see any reason why it would have to. Freer trade does not in any sense require greater political integration.

Jon Murphy writes:

I think both Vasilis and Matt have good points.

I agree with Vasilis that the collapse of the Schengen Treaty would increase the likelihood of more closed borders and restricted trade, although Matt is right that it doesn't have to be a given. It would certainly mean a lower standard of living as people could not travel as easily among the nations for better work as they can now.

Closed borders and restricted trade can increase the possibility for war among the nations. Trade builds friendships and enriches nations. If Germany needs wine and France needs coal, the two can arrange a trade very easily in an open border situation. It becomes relatively more difficult when borders are closed and could make war a more attractive option.

I don't think dissolving Schengen would necessarily translate Europe back into a perpetual war phase. I'm suggesting the odds of such an outcome would likely increase.

Thomas B writes:

Both free trade and relatively free movement existed before Schengen (before the EU there was the EC and the EEC). And there have been EU countries (including the UK and Ireland) outside Schengen the whole time. I also remember border control points inside the US (they were on all the crossing points into California, including from AZ and NV).

It's inconvenient and annoying but it doesn't have to be the start of an ugly slippery slope.

Vasilis Kostelidis writes:

I am not saying that the closing of the borders and ending of free trade is a given (although if the union collapses, free movement will most likely end). I just think that it is a possibility.

I am talking especially about France. I think they have a tendency to favor protectionism and Mercantilism.

The strength of the Franco-German friendship is a peace keeper. My fear is that if France leaves the union and go Mercantilist, tensions between them and Germany will emerge once again, as so many times in the past.

Again, my opinion is far from an expert's opinion. I am just stating my fears.
(My apologies for my use of the English language)

Alberto Mingardi writes:

Thank you for your, most insightful comments. Thomas B is certainly right: the demise of Schengen "doesn't have to be the start of an ugly slippery slope". I agree with Matt Moore that "freer trade" doesn't necessarily goes with greater political integration.

And yet I understand Vasilis Kostelidis's worries. The major political parties in Europe are longing for (more) mercantilism and increased political control over people's transactions (and lives). Are European institutions an effective safeguard against such a tendency? No, for sure. Will national electorates, left on their own, be less likely to go down that way? This seems to me to be the relevant question. I won't be particularly hopeful, though.

Noah Carl writes:

On the question of identity, national identity trumps European identity in every country:

http://www.openpop.org/?p=1185

Bill Drissel writes:

[[Now, 70 years after the EU was born, there have been no wars between it's member states, which is amazing. My parents never had to worry about war, while their parents lived in a state of perpetual threat of war.]]

[Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy]

I agree. "never had to worry about war" in my opinion arises from:
1. Unconditional surrender -> no German post-WW II gov't for several years
2. De nazification - no holdovers from German militarism in any postwar German govt.
3. Occupation - the headquarters of the German army then and now is in Arlington VA.

The Germans I worked with here in the states were the age of my children. There was no admiration for military virtues among them.

Bill Drissel
Frisco, TX

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