Amid bickering over the future of the Schengen area, the ceiling of the Schengen museum has (rather ominously) collapsed. On Tuesday 10 May 2016, a suspended ceiling in the European Museum in Schengen came loose and fell to the ground. The museum documents the history of EU integration.

Is it a sign of things to come? In response to the ongoing migrant crisis and terror attacks in Brussels and Paris, several EU Member States have reintroduced passport controls along their borders. So far, Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Austria, and Belgium have all reinstated checks. Some analysts believe that the Schengen area is on “life support”, and the plug could be pulled at any moment.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has warned that scrapping Schengen would do untold economic damamge, very likely spelling the end of both the Euro and the EU’s Single Market. Others, such a Bill Emmott, former Editor-in-Chief of The Economist, believe that the EU could continue (and even flourish) without the Schengen area.

Curious to know more about the Schengen Area? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).


We had a comment sent in from Andrej, who believes the Schengen area is an integral part of the European project. Is he right? Or is it possible to imagine an EU without it?

To get a response, we spoke to Klen Jäärats, Director for European Union Affairs at the Office of the Estonian Prime Minister. How would he respond to Andrej?

jaaratsWell, for us as a peripheral country in Europe – and as a country that joined the Union when Schengen was already operating – it’s rather difficult to imagine the EU without Schengen. And, given that we are a country that lived under the Soviet Union – where travel was extremely restricted – this is probably one of the EU freedoms that Estonians tend to enjoy the most and is the most visible.

The economic freedoms are a bit less obvious to people. But the perception of a generation that has never had internal borders is, or should be, something already completely different.

We can imagine a world without Schengen, because we came from that world. We came from a system where exit was more difficult than entry. So, even if you had a visa for a Western country, exit from the Soviet Union was difficult. These freedoms are quite dear to our hearts. And I hope, for the younger generation, a Europe with internal borders is something they can’t imagine anymore.

We also had a comment from Eugene, who argued that the weakness of Schengen is in the fact that the EU has abolished internal borders, but there are still hundreds of thousands of people entering the EU through its external borders. Should EU Member States’ external borders be Europeanised, with a common border and coast guard?

jaaratsI think this is already something which is in progress, and I think we are slowly moving towards that direction. I think people do understand the weakness of the national-based systems.

Most probably it will be your compatriots that will guard your border even when there will be an institutionalised European border guard. But the command structure and standards will implemented in the same uniform manner everywhere.

So, I would think that we are moving towards that direction, especially after the current crisis. However, I don’t think that nationalised external borders are “bad” and European borders are “good”. Nationalised external borders would work perfectly if the existing rules were just followed uniformly. In reality, however, they are not.

Would the EU collapse without the borderless Schengen area? Or is it possible to imagine an EU without Schengen? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Daniel Lobo
The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


77 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    The European Union needs to expand the current EU European Security and Defense Policy unit to form a million man all professional EU Defense Force with a Galileo GPS system and French Nuclear Weapons to protect Schengen . Turkeys aggression on the European Union via the swamping of illegal immigrants has created a dire emergency in the European Union .We need a EU Defense Force immediately .

  2. avatar
    Daniel Parvanov

    No… Cause of the EU double standards some of us live outside of schengen and in eye of the storm of illegal migrant crisis it is better…

  3. avatar
    Toni Muñiz

    Schengen is for EU citizens. Schengen is not for uncontrolled EU external borders. And it is definitely not for illegal to roam throughout the EU, set up camps like Calais and not be deported. With these type of questions you are trying to skew and manipulate what Schengen is. I have no problem with another EU member citizen comming to my country to live and work. After all, we chose EU. But I do haave a problem with those not from EU who come illegally and then the government not doing anything about it, no deportation, even when they committ violent crimes. And even so with Schengen, free movement for EU citizens, but there should always be some type of checks at borders to keep terrorists from acting as we experienced in France. Although that’s a whole other story.

    • avatar

      those “French” terrorists were EU citizens..

  4. avatar
    Winston Zhang

    In One Word: YES. The Schengen agreement and the Euro are the two main pillars of the EU. If you either take out one of the pillars, the entire house will collapse.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      Agreed, “The Schengen agreement and the Euro are the two main pillars of the EU”……..and look what a complete disaster both of the “pillars” have proven to be..
      The only thing left trying to prop the EU up is the arrogance and ignorance of the EU elite in refusing to accept that the whole project has been a dismal failure

  5. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    Of course it will, closely followed by the plague of locusts, drought, lice, frogs, darkness, first-born-homicide…

  6. avatar
    Ioanna Geor

    I cannot see how a destroyed Schengen can hurt more the EU. The Union is already hurt from the inside, when nations took into consideration more their national issues that the EU issues, when each other implemented passport control for EU citizens after terror attacks, when the very own principles of solidarity,brotherhood, liberty,, democracy and friendship are stomped in favour of money and personal profits, like elections. I really cannot see how much more it can hurt EU. It may give it the final blow, but to a structure that is already diminishing

  7. avatar

    Borderless, bla, bla, Schengen area and migrant/refugee crisis. It seems that these two doesn’t go well together, regardless the effort of main stream media who try to convince us the opposite. However, once in the same basket, these two elements are just like Plutonium cores inside a nuke.

  8. avatar
    Anti EU citizen

    I don’t care how the EU falls apart I just hope it will!!!

  9. avatar
    Peter Brown

    The first thing that has to be done if Europe wishes to retain Schengen is to rein in the precipitous and unilateral actions of Schultz and Merkel.

    Germany is PART of the EU. It is not their legal LEADER.

    The second thing that has to be done is to promote the real will to properly police external borders and to recognise that very few of the migrants coming to Europe are actually refugees, not even those from Syria. In every case, those coming to Europe via Greece and the Balkan States cannot be classified as refugees as they depart from UN recognised ‘Safe Countries’. The only way to stop the flood of refugees is to do exactly as the Australians have done and declare that anyone who tries to enter Europe illegally will never be given access. The EU could save a fortune by leasing land outside of Europe for use as a refugee assessment centre. Those that then qualify could then be admitted and the rest turned away.

    THAT is the only possible way for the EU to return to full Schengen.

  10. avatar
    Francis Le Lievre

    generations of improving cooperation & European identity endangered by the rise of fascism.
    I’m sure I’ve already seen this play.

  11. avatar
    Eugenia Serban

    There are double standards within EU.
    And nations are not united, on the contrary……more devided day by day because some people think ” they are more equal than the others”…as Orwell said 50 years ago

  12. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    First – what are the proponents trying to accomplish?
    Second – what would this measure try to accomplish?
    Third – what impact would it have on the way the EU now functions?
    Paraphrasing Mies – the devil is in the details.

  13. avatar

    First – what are the proponents trying to accomplish?
    Second – what would this measure try to accomplish?
    Third – what impact would it have on the way the EU now functions?
    Paraphrasing Mies van der Rohe – the devil is in the details.

  14. avatar
    Rosy Forlenza

    No I don’t think it would. I think it matters more to central european countries than those geographical on the periphera. It would be harder for organized crime and terrorism without Schengen but obviously it suits big business. I don’t think Schengen or its demise affects the EU either way there are obvious advantages and disadvantages. What will kill the EU is if it continues to be run along the lines of today, where there has been such a contempt for local democracies and people’s concerns regarding accountability, and transparency and the lack of concern for basic rights of citizens. The sooner Juncker and his ilk go, the better it will be for all of us.

  15. avatar
    Wolfgang Mizelli

    as far as I know the EU is an organization with 28 national states. if border controls are signs of stupid selfish nationalism then yes, otherwise no.

  16. avatar
    Maia Alexandrova

    Of course it will not collapse – just like it is not collapsing now when not all countries are part of Schengen. Schengen is something good when security of borders can be guaranteed. Otherwise – passport checks at every border will not break up the union, but on the contrary – will make it safer.

  17. avatar
    Rui Correia

    No, it wouldn’t… In fact, putting an end to Schengen would bring back order, and reduce chaos… and it would enable countries to decompose the numbers, putting an end to some myths regarding migration numbers and movement of people within Europe. Schengen is now just a big “free for all”, mainly for Non-Europeans immigrating into Europe from all over the world. Schengen contributes to a certain “distortion of numbers”.

  18. avatar
    Rui Correia

    Some European countries (some more than others) have this annoying trend of saying their achievements and victories are “national only”, while their problems and setbacks are “European” or “Europe/EU is to blame for that”… Britain also does this, maybe more than quite a few others, depending on the subject… it seems to be a “pride” thing, I don’t know…? – anyway, moving forward… a further integrated EU economically/financially separated from Britain might/could be a good idea, everybody stays happy, we all get along as dear friends and neighbours, etc… all good… But there’s still the issue of border controls, immigration into Europe from all parts of the world, legal/regular and illegal/irregular, and all the disruptions and economic/social distortions it causes in our societies on so many levels, etc… One cannot forget that, even if a country is out of the Schengen area, by being inside the EU, the EU’s free movement rule somehow “overwrites” the Non-Schengen status, and that country has to allow in a significant number of people from outside the EU, born somewhere else in the world, as long as they have EU passports, nationalities/double-nationalities, and/or specific EU-country-issued documents, or even some specific nationality/status they might have inherited from the past, since European countries used to be colonial powers (in a past long gone!!)… The big question is: Do you (Britain) trust all other EU member countries in terms of border controls, issued documents and travel/migration rules on a national level, that afterwards extends throughout all the EU/Europe?? – I don’t… and unfortunately, my own native country is not a good example… You have to bear in mind that some European countries were colonial powerhouses in the past, and have/had already Visa-free travel arrangements with “half the planet” or so… Others, are simply corrupt… So, when Britain signs a deal with a bunch of countries considering they have a population of aprox X million people, they’re not taking into account that many XXXXXX millions more will come, via that country, or via that country’s prior arrangements somehow… it’s just plain dishonest and disruptive… One example? Well… if you only speak English, sometimes you won’t be able to tell the difference between foreign languages or regional accents… But I can tell you this much: judging by the number of people I see and hear, claiming they are from Southern European countries… wow… places like Italy, Spain, Portugal, or even Greece, should all be completely empty by now, a big desert there… and they’re not… Which makes me believe that large migration numbers within Europe is more of a big overrated myth!… but on the other hand, immigration from the rest of the world INTO Europe, into different European countries, and into Britain and Northern Europe via Southern and Eastern European countries will be the real issue… and the British are just scared because, unfortunately, they can’t see the difference at so many levels!! It’s understandable… but wrong. Note: this is not racist, etc etc bla bla bla… I don’t care about race/ethnicity, religious beliefs, or whatever… this has to do with SUSTAINABILITY AND NUMBERS ONLY.

  19. avatar
    Rui Correia

    We all know how it is… European countries with national arrangements, allowing Visa free travel into Europe from several other countries in other parts of the world, etc etc… and what happens after 90 days? Do people go back?? Nop… they get lost, they go under the radar, under the system, and they wander around… sometimes going to Northern European countries, and claiming to be from Southern European countries like Italy, Greece, Spain or Portugal… it would be interesting to have a “filter” in place, and see the real numbers, the real figures of Europeans moving around within Europe, without distortions…

  20. avatar
    Michael Mühl

    Yes, quite likely it would and it would be the most devastating decision.
    We have come so far, we should not fall back into the rhetoric of the thirties..There is still a lot to improve in the EU but it is still better than our countries fighting each other.. #reformtheEU

  21. avatar
    Marco Musazzi

    No, it would be a better place to live for everyone. Free movement of capitals without free movement of people is just exploitation of the poorest.

  22. avatar
    Mario Gómez Clavera

    It would be a tragic violation of European Law which would entail the destruction of one of the pillars of this international organization. Have we forgotten democracy, rule of law and human rights? Sorry, but EU have treaties, conventions, directives, that is some law that each country knew before to stay in the EU. If someone of this countries don’t like the European values…what are they doing in the EU?

  23. avatar
    Davide Zoran Parenti

    Of course. There’s no reason to exist for the EU without Schengen. I totally refuse the idea of a free movement of goods and capitals without a free movement of the people. A space with the same shared currency and then I can’t move freely inside this space? Crazy. So in this case there’s no reason to keep the same currency too. In case, better to abolish the EU and the euro at all, even if this would be sad and stupid.

  24. avatar

    We should tell national politicians that they do not speak for us Europeans if they hinder us travelling or living in other countries than those we arbitrarily left the body of our mothers. Schengen is one of the greatest achievement of European civilization. We should not keep calm if politicians want to go back to national borders. These few islamist murders – as tragic as they are – and immigrants are exploited by nationalist politicians to get rid of this annoying European cooperation (in their view).

  25. avatar
    Παυλος Χαραλαμπους

    without free movement of people we can’t have Euro, but for me the real Question is do we really want Euro?? all the sacrifices all the pain and the tiers for what?? rich are getting richer and the poor are talking there own lifes to avoid jail.. yeah you talking about values, but christoforakos is out there free,the Greek authorities can’t touch him because he is a German citizen! yeah values and rules..

  26. avatar
    Danny Boy

    Forgive my naivety but didn’t the EU exit before this Schengen area agreement ever came into being.Let’s face it all these problems of middle eastern migrants roaming across the continent is entirely the fault of this no borders nonsense,o.k i’ll except we can’t stop migrants crossing to Greece from Turkey or to Italy from Africa but if the borders were secured and closed at least they couldn’t go any further,it would then force these countries to properly police their coastlines.

  27. avatar
    Stoyan Todorov

    The reason behind UK’s doubt about the EU’s values is the influence of the US! Think about it if UK leaves the union the union will be significantly weakened. Who will benefit from weakened EU? Without free moving goods and services …US and Russian companies , countries that want power. Is it good for us , I’m not sure .

    • avatar
      Paul X

      So why are the EU’s ambitions for power any more acceptable than Russia’s or the US?

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      Europe is a continent, the EU a concept & your statement a fatal misunderstanding!

  28. avatar
    Wendy Harris

    Europe was once an unsinkable pocket battleship of different countries now it is a rusty leaking shipping container that cannot defend itself.

  29. avatar
    Alan Rowe

    In its present format, the EU project is walking into the abyss. It needs root and branch restructuring, away from the trammelled idealism of its original architects.
    In in first couple of decades it was a blessing. Today it is a political sarcophagus.

  30. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    Of course it will, the process of EU disintegration as already begun & is now unstoppable.

  31. avatar
    Jean-Pierre Rosa

    It would not collapse but business would be overly complex and resources wasted. The faster we move towards a federation the better.

  32. avatar
    Bódis Kata

    No, but it would cause recession.
    The time spent waiting at the borders is an economic waste, same as traffic jams or long waiting in offices. And FB.

  33. avatar
    Francesco Haag Bellini

    Why could collapse? Control is necessary even to travel between regions of same country… But is necessary to apply laws about legal migration. No rights to stay, no invasion. Simple

  34. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    For Shengen to be balanced and effective there needs to be a social EU with the same benefits and minimum wage EU-wide. Otherwise exploitation by greedy profit hungry businesses and local job losses occur . Or businesses clamour to open production in EU countries with cheap workforces.

  35. avatar
    Kristján Haukur Magnússon

    Depends what you mean, I’ve always been stopped, half of the eastern countries do not know that Iceland exists or point to Greenland or the north pole…

  36. avatar
    Stefano Zuzzi

    I don’t think the Europe of today,
    is working as it should.
    The EU need to open its eyes, to the fact that we are connected,
    until is too late.

  37. avatar
    Manuel Alegria

    There are no borders, and there will be no borders inside our country EU…
    Make all outside borders stonger, Unify a special EU police force to control outside Schengem borders

  38. avatar
    Yannick Cornet

    Free movement of capital and goods without free movement of people is good for transnational corporations and bad for the people. It would be a serious blow to Europe as a social project.

  39. avatar
    Jeremy Bornstein

    The EU will collapse w/o any controls ,schengen or not,there certainly needs to be an external schengen

  40. avatar
    Pedro Vaz

    Is there such a thing as a Schengen area? A Schengen area requires the borders of the continent to be closed and all they have now is a “Refugees welcome!” sign and European Navies acting like Human smugglers.

  41. avatar
    Tom ruisu

    Some of the comments aimed at the UK are hurtful and demonstrate precisely why the UK chose to leave. The U.K. Values freedom, national sovereignty, rule of law, and variety, the EU undermines all of these. The U.K. Has long accepted that it has a unique legal system and sense of freedom compared to mainland Europe and has only asked it be protected, but year in year out those values which define Britain through its ancient history are overridden by the EU system.

  42. avatar

    Schengen was thé dream of every criminal,terrorist and illegal immigrant.Merkel and her supporters are thé new threat to stability in Europe.Thé problems are not catholics,protestants,jews,sihks,hindus or bhudists but MUSLIMS.Time our so called leaders had thé moral fibre to admit it

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