First it was Germany, who in September 2015 reintroduced border controls within the Schengen Area. Austria and Slovenia quickly followed in a mere matter of days, throwing up restrictions against the free movement of people. Since then temporary border controls and checks have become the norm throughout most of the Schengen Area. Countries usually prone to more liberal policies have begun to adopt anti-migratory measures as their citizens emotionally respond to an increase in terror attacks and refugee inflows. Two months later in November, interior European ministers met to discuss the potential extension of these restrictions. Is the European project effectively over? Will restrictions continue to overtake headlines or is something brighter in the future?
What countries should be asking, however, is not whether or not these controls will continue, but rather why this anti-migratory sentiment is on the rise. Stress on the pre-existing refugee system, particularly the specifications of the Dublin Regulation, certainly plays a role. Current policy states that refugees are to be registered in the first country of arrival. This disproportionally puts the burden on southern European countries to strengthen their borders and to take on the socioeconomic pressures of stateless people. Because many migrants choose the dangerous Mediterranean route, the navies of these countries, such as Italy, must handle the treacherous task of saving these refugees.
Where is the extra funding from supranational European bodies to deal with this issue? So far: nonexistent. Is there a way of reforming the Dublin Regulation so that the burden isn’t so unbalanced? The EU Commission has proposed methods of change, but a plethora of misunderstanding and bureaucracy leads observers to believe reforms are not in the near future.
Perhaps the problem does not lie with funding. European countries worry that there is not sufficient control to the outside borders because fear of terrorist attacks. How much are European-based attacks, such those in Paris and Brussels, acting as a driving force? Taking a small look at the rise of right-wing parties within the European Union just over the past year points to a high degree of influence. Citizens can suddenly see the direct impact of fighting wars in highly unstable countries – and it seems they don’t like the outcome.
There is a maximum of two years in which European countries can extend border controls throughout the Schengen Area. So it is already concerning that countries like Germany and Austria are facing internal calls from right-wing and mainstream parties to extend these very anti-European politics. Most recently, Chancellor Angela Merkel stated her country’s intent to return Nigerian migrants who seek economic asylum. In 2016, ten thousand Nigerians left their country and attempted to reach Germany. However, given that they are not fleeing a war zone – the ordinary refugee-friendly Germany has opted to send them back. The rationale: to make more space for those refugees who cannot go home.
According to other players, the motivations are not as generous as they sound. Both Greece and Italy claim that the increase in border controls by other countries is an attempt to restrict migrant flows from border countries to their own. More and more, they find themselves alone and with a lack of substantive support by other European states. If discussion on the drawbacks of multilevel governance were to come up, here would a be a particularly clear example of how ineffective it can be.
The Italian Foreign Affairs Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, has responded by calling for a common European approach towards the inflow of refugees. The inter-European police task force (Interpol) is not enough, he claims. Instead, countries need to set up a cooperative civilian-military structure and adopt a common approach to strengthening the EU defence sector. It would be ambitious to claim that all states should simply set up laws that prevent prejudice towards migrant movement. Moreover, it would be unrealistic. European countries have yet to even set up common sanctions against Russia. Why would a common strategy towards an even larger conflict be expected?
Instead of focusing on the second-hand effects (i.e. border controls and migration), we should be thinking about how to deal with the actual issues and how European countries can handle them together. Defence is at the core of how state actors define sovereignty. This is why it is so difficult to convince countries to put aside a singular focus on their own security.
Unfortunately, Europe cannot afford to ignore the very real security threats facing it. Russian interference in Ukraine and the actions of non-state actors (ISIS, Boko Haram, etc.) are only two of the most well-reported phenomena that ought to concern lawmakers. The first reaction by countries may be to reestablish border controls, as have some countries. Recently, the RAND think tank released a report that stated it would cost over 20 billion EUR to end the Schengen Agreement. Surely, such money could be better utilised elsewhere. perhaps on increasing internal intelligence and defence cooperation.
Former Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, once said “more than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together.” Europe has come together before in its history to create the first successful supranational union of nations; it can and should do it again. Increased migration towards their borders represents not a challenge, but rather an opportunity to show the world what international cooperation can accomplish.