2015 won’t be remembered as a very happy year…barely two weeks into it and we already had two major terrorist incidents in France and in Nigeria. As the year went on, more terrorist incidents took place around the globe, with Europe not showing signs of immunity while the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and elsewhere haven’t shown signs of improvement.
Another phenomenon has reached grim proportions this year: that of the flow of refugees and migrants heading towards Europe. More specifically, that of casualties in the flow of refugees and migrants heading towards Europe. While it’s impossible to point out the exact toll, it’s estimated that so far more than 2 500 people have died trying to reach Europe this year, most of them in shipwrecks while crossing the Mediterranean Sea – even if fatalities are not exclusive to the sea routes, as yesterday’s discovery of dozens of bodies inside a truck on the Slovakian – Austrian border showed. The overall figures far exceed those of the previous years and there’s little reason to think they will improve over the next months.
In the light of recent terrorist incidents and increased flows of people trying to enter Europe illegally, several European politicians have been calling for revisions of the Schengen Agreement, some even going so far as saying that Schengen is great and all but it needs to be changed. This is hardly surprising, the freedom of movement provided by Schengen has come under attack before but this must be the first time that we hear such calls by mainstream politicians, many of them part of national governments. The European Commission, in its role as guardian of the treaties, outright rejects this, as it should be expected.
When national leaders bring this forth and start resorting to the rhetoric of “I’m all for this but…”, that is when we know we’re in trouble. After all, it’s very convenient to be able to say “I’m in favour of this in principle, don’t get me wrong, but the circumstances gave me no choice…”, it gives you a comfortable position and it allows you to save your face in front of your voters and counterparts in other countries. In a certain way, it is not an incorrect thing to say: that’s right, the circumstances gave you no choice, it was either this or lose the election, what kind of utopian self-delusional holier-than-thou John Lennon moralist doesn’t understand this?!
Far-right and other populist parties have no such concerns, they are against freedom of circulation by principle but when centre politicians resort to this rhetoric, I’m led to think they are not necessarily in favour or against Schengen (or any other European policy) – their orientation is rather that of the prevalent trends of public opinion. If public opinion feels more reassured with the rollback of freedom of circulation, better start making calls for restrictions to Schengen, that’s how you prevent extremists from hijacking the voters, by copying what they have called for earlier.
If such politicians really are as pro-Schengen as they say but are just concerned about its application, they would know the agreement allows for police checks at borders if the authorities deem them necessary. Schengen also allows a 30-day suspension of its application, which is what is usually done when there is a large high-profile event (sports tournament, Olympic Games, etc). But I guess this doesn’t fit within a 10-second sound bite for the viewers, pity that, informed decisions are the invisible casualties of the culture of sound bite-o-cracy and dumbed down decision making.
I know that expecting politicians to do some research can be akin to wishful thinking but if some of these people would even bother with looking at the records, they would see that there’s no significant discrepancy between the amount of terrorist incidents in Europe with at least 1 fatality before and after Schengen came into force. Terrorism was not born with Schengen and there were several dozens of deadly terrorist incidents in EU countries before 1985 to account for it, many of them made possible thanks to weapons trafficking that went through border controls, despite some politicians saying this would be a panacea against everything.
Rather than ensuring their intelligence services and police officers are doing their work or even to make better use of the Schengen Information System and improve their information-sharing with other Member States, the first solution that comes to mind is more restrictions. Then again, it hardly seems surprising that the blame should lie with external causes, rather than looking at what is not working correctly within.
If some of these politicians and national leaders would look within, they would be confronted with a very inconvenient truth: a great amount of the refugees risking their lives to reach Europe over the last few years and of the terrorist incidents that have affected European countries in recent times are directly and indirectly linked to decisions taken by European countries, even if partially. The EU and the leaders of its Member States did not create the Iraq, Syrian and Libyan conflicts by themselves but they contributed to them in several ways, whether by supplying weapons to the wrong people or simply by incompetence.
No leader is willing to admit this, hence why they prefer to stick to the easiest and most ready-to-serve solution to their voters/viewers (and here I make an extensive interpretation of the term “viewers”, as they don’t necessarily have to be watching their leaders on television): we need to restrict freedom of movement because all bad things come from outside. Well, that’s reassuring, imagine they didn’t?