National Domestic Policy puts Freedom of Movement in Europe at Risk

The ability to travel within Europe without border controls is among the most visible advantages of the European unification process. Freedom of movement for persons has long since become an accomplishment for more than just the citizens of most EU states in continental Europe. Neutral Switzerland has also joined the so-called Schengen process. The EU Commission presented its first semi-annual report on the state of Schengen developments in May 2012. But current events threaten to bring back the barriers.

The discussion surrounding freedom of travel in the Schengen region took a dramatic turn with the decision of the EU ministers of the interior on 7 June 2012 to return actual control over security checks at internal borders to the national states. The European Parliament, which previously had the right to codetermination, has already objected with an overwhelming majority to the decision by the ministers of the interior to base the implementation of the Schengen Agreement on Article 70 instead of Article 77 of the agreement regarding the functioning of the European Union. This minor legal change has a considerable impact. The EU Council of Ministers and therefore the national governments would once again have sole authority to decide on reintroducing and conducting security checks at internal borders. On the other hand, the EU Commission and the EU Parliament would no longer play a significant role in these matters regarding freedom of movement for persons.

26 countries are currently participating in "Schengen", including all EU states – with the exception of Great Britain, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus – as well as non-EU members Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Borders between the Schengen states can be crossed without a passport. This benefits 400 million Europeans who, according to the report, take a good 1.25 billion trips per year. Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner of Internal Affairs, assesses the political and economic impact of Schengen developments: "Schengen is among the most valuable accomplishments of European integration. It is highly valued by EU citizens and makes a major contribution to our economic wealth."

But some Central European EU members in particular fear that refugees crossing the external borders of the EU may continue on into their countries uncontrolled due to the lack of national border controls. The Commission report supplies the following facts: "There is a significant number of critical points along the external borders of the Schengen region, especially the Eastern Mediterranean route via Turkey to Greece. Nearly 30,000 irregular border crossings – with approximately 75 percent via the Eastern Mediterranean route – were uncovered in the last three months of 2011."

The intent of the proposed changes to the Schengen system is to make it possible to reintroduce national border controls to a much greater extent than in the past, even without the approval of the EU or a review by the EU Commission. Border controls at the internal borders were only possible in exceptional cases and over the short term to date. During the six-month reporting period, internal border controls only resumed on two occasions – by France at its border to Italy for the G20 Summit from 3 to 4 November 2011, and by Spain at its border to France and at the Barcelona and Girona airports for the convention of the European Central Bank from 2 to 4 May 2012.

For proponents of reintroducing border controls at the internal national borders, this move merely counteracts control deficits at the external borders. In actually this change consolidates the refugee problem in the states at the external borders of the Schengen region. At the same time, the renationalization of internal borders abolishes a major, citizen-friendly achievement as a legal normality – which is how the EU report views freedom of movement for persons.

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