The European Union’s interior ministers have taken the first step in reforming the Schengen treaty, which enables people to circulate freely through much of Europe. Some EU governments want to be able to close their borders to immigration. The UK and other countries are making plans in the face of threatened large-scale migratory movements, should the Euro finally collapse.
The European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, warned a few weeks ago of how the extreme right-wing defence of rhetoric and xenophobia is starting to affect the policies and decisions of the EU: “The winds of populism are affecting a key achievement of European integration: the free movement of persons within the EU.
In that space, there is no room for stigmatisation of foreigners, as happens in certain countries nowadays”.
One example is the last electoral campaign of France’s former President, Nicolas Sarkozy, in which he suggested that France’s borders be closed to protect the country’s poor from immigration.
However, fear of “the other” is now not only used in speeches to influence the general population’s ideas, but it is also a threat that EU member states are now beginning to feel.
This month, the European Council, without the support of the European Commission, decided unilaterally to reform the Schengen treaty, which allows the free circulation of people within the EU, to make it easier to impose border controls when a state consider it appropriate.
With this decision, which the 26 member states agreed to, the national governments recuperate the power to close their borders without the backing of the European Commission or the Parliament – an act that these institutions have considered to be an attack against the principal pillars of the EU.
Up until now, the Schengen treaty included one chapter in which the free circulation of people was permitted to be suspended under exceptional circumstances, something that could put public order in danger, for example sporting or political events.
However, the laws newly approved by EU ministers declare that border controls could be established over the space of a year — six months plus another extendible six months — with migratory motives included as an exceptional circumstance, when faced with irregular influxes of immigration.
While countries that adhere to the Schengen agreement are now taking the first steps to return to closing their borders, other countries including the United Kingdom have confirmed that they are preparing a plan to curb eventual mass immigration, should the Euro fail and the country, with the pound sterling, see itself become a last resort.
In light of this, the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, signalled to the Daily Telegraph that it is “difficult to say how things will develop in coming weeks”, and added that restrictions, such as visas to work in the country, could be imposed. Similarly with the United Kingdom, high-ranking positions within the EU have indicated that other EU countries have begun to prepare themselves for a worst-case scenario, and are designing national emergency plans in which measures such as the total suspension of Schengen could be included.
The campaign in favour of closing the borders was pioneered by the former French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his Italian counterpart, Silvio Berlusconi, with the support of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
Last year they asked the Parliament to modify the treaty to enable the closure of borders in the case of a mass influx of immigrants, something that they claimed was happening at the time, with refugees arriving in Europe during the Arab Spring uprisings.
The European Parliament consequently intervened, arguing that the arrival of immigrants and refugees to the EU was not a sufficient motive to newly alter the Schengen treaty.
One EU country unilaterally ignored the Schengen system for the first time last year. Denmark began the construction of customs booths at its borders with Germany and Sweden, in reaction to a rise in the number of criminals arriving in the country.
However, the introduction of this measure, which was approved by the then coalition government of liberals, conservatives, and the extreme-right The Danish People’s Party, has been slowed down by the country’s new social democratic Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who has promised to soften the strict migratory policies imposed by the government.
Despite Europe having a capital that flows globally, limitlessly knocking and determining the politics of each country, the EU governments do continue to regulate and close their borders to the free circulation of people, in a struggle to face the threatening arrival of “others”.
(Translated by Rosa Elswood)