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?
Well, 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?
I 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
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