Daily Israel Report
More

Zion's Corner Blogs


EU Scrambles to Save Schengen

The tide of refugees from North Africa has forced Europe to ponder the sustainability of a Europe without borders.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 4/28/2011, 7:59 PM / Last Update: 4/28/2011, 10:37 PM

A popular Israeli saying is that there is nothing more permanent than a temporary arrangement. It remains to be seen whether the call for temporary border security measures which is gaining support within the European Union will mark the death knell for the "Europe without borders" instituted by the Schengen treaty.

Similarly, it will be interesting to see how the European countries manage to introduce heightened border security without heightened security checks.

The current crisis has been triggered by the upheavals in North Africa that have sent waves of migrants seeking asylum in Europe, with labor migrants predominating over bona fide political refugees. Italy, because of its proximity to North Africa, was the first to face the brunt of these waves and when it sensed that the European Union remained apathetic to its plight, issued the refugees with temporary residence permits and encouraged them to move onwards to France.

France, claiming dire economic circumstances rather than racism or xenophobia, temporarily closed its border with Italy and currently appears willing to let the refugees congregate near the channel tunnel in the expectation that they will move on to Britain.

France has also begun arresting dozens of Tunisian migrantsm to the displeasure of the human rights organizations and Paris' Socialist mayor Bernard Delanoe.

A majority of the French political class has either kept silent or supported the crackdown.

Now Germany, the Netherlands, Greece and Malta have backed the April 26 agreement between French President Nichola Sarkozy and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi calling for adjustments to the Schengen agreement that creates a Europe without borders.

Some of the support is being given grudgingly: "If you can improve the Schengen systemM then that is good and you should," said German foreign minister Guido WesterwelleM but for him freedom of travel was nonnegotiable. His colleagueM German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, is apparently in favor of more than improvements. His spokesmanM Jens TeschkeM said that under "exceptional circumstances" including mass illegal immigration, temporarily reinstating border controls may be possible.

Fearing a stampedeM the European CommissionM that originally took a hands-off approach, is scrambling to reassert control and has promised to define exceptional situations and  present proposals next week. The original treaty does have such a provision, requiring consultation with the European Parliament.

Fearing that the horses will have left the barn by then, the EU may decide to short-circuit such consultation.