Today is a remarkable day. Today we see the fallout of something that most of us believed to be impossible. Germany has, albeit temporarily, suspended its membership of the Schengen Agreement in response to the refugee crisis. This decision to suspend its membership in Schengen marks a shift of policy from statements made by Chancellor Merkel earlier this week. The rhetoric from Berlin has changed remarkably in the last few days and it is important. The prognosis of 800,000 refugees coming to Germany this year alone puts a unprecedented stress on German society, but it is also telling of something larger, a decline in something seen as ‘sacred’ by Eurocrats. The free movement of people, a ‘fundamental’ pillar of the EU, has in effect, started to end.
Viktor Orban, the much debated and criticised PM of Hungary, has welcomed this move. Hardly a surprise, however, and despite shortcomings in other fields, he has had a point throughout the refugee crisis that is worth mentioning. When Hungary, alongside all other members of the EU, became members they also agreed to the Schengen Agreement of a no-borders policy. This agreement removed all border controls within the EU and created an external border that was to be protected. Hungary happens to have not one, but two, external borders. One of these, the one facing Serbia, has recently been heavily under pressure from migrants attempting to reach Europe. Hungary then did as requested by the Agreement – to enforce the external border. This attracted heavy criticism from certain quarters around Europe which, at the end of the day, they are charged with doing. The German decision to withdraw from Schengen is understandable, but hypocritical.
Comments made earlier this weekend by the Austrian Chancellor, likening the Hungarian treatment of refugees with Nazi deportations, is a dangerous analogy that should not be used lightly. There might be weaknesses and problems with this treatment, however this does not amount to the heinous crimes committed by the National Socialists during WWII. These remarks are also telling for another reason. They show just how far from a ‘unified’ migration policy Europe is, despite attempts from Brussels to achieve this. The political, cultural, economical and social cohesion and unity that would be required for such a policy simply does not exist. Allowing states to regain control of their borders would defuse a lot of the incredible tension that has built up in Europe over the past few weeks. However, this crisis is also leading to more headaches around the capitals of Europe.
We all have different views on the opinions of a certain charismatic and straight talking blonde (and no, I am not talking about Boris Johnson) but on this occasion Donald Trump is right on the money. As the external border of the European Union has seemingly been abandoned we cannot tell who has actually entered the Union’s territory. We are standing in front of a significant security threat, a threat that unfortunately is likely to lead to tragedy. How many ISIS followers have entered EU territory over the past few weeks? How many of these are now able to travel freely around Europe, knowing that the chances of being stopped by police are extremely small? The internal free movement of people relies on an enforced external border protecting us from those that seek to harm us. This border is now shattered and Europe lies exposed. There is now only one appropriate response in the short term – suspend Schengen completely and reinstate border controls across the EU to counter this threat.
The migrant crisis before us, brought about by war and terror, is of course a humanitarian catastrophe and an adequate response will be necessary to help those in genuine need of help. Abandoning our borders is neither necessary, nor wise. By suspending the Schengen Agreement and returning to the previously agreed Dublin Convention, Europe might still stand a chance at taking control over a situation that is quickly turning from out of hand to chaotic. We owe that, not only to our own citizens, but also to those that seek refuge here in Europe. They must be treated with dignity and respect. But we cannot work under the assumption that they are all fleeing from murderous regimes and groups. We must, at the border, assess their cases for coming here.
All in all it is not over until the fat lady sings and come what may, but today might mark a shift in European attitudes toward the migrant crisis. It is obvious to most that taking on up to a million refugees in a year alone across the European Union puts unprecedented stress on societies and governments. Eventually the systems will fail and the anarchy that arises in its stead will be unstable, even dangerous. We must prioritise those that are genuinely fleeing for their lives and give them a safe haven here until the conflict has come to an end. The Schengen Agreement is now presenting a significant security threat to Europe and remaining countries should do like Germany and suspend it. This must be done in order to safeguard all, citizens and migrants alike, from those that seek to bring us nothing but harm and destruction.