Tales from the ‘Schengenland’

image: Schengen” by Attila Németh

baris-100x100by Baris Celik

The very idea and the reality of an entity such as the European Union made many people to conjure that ‘borders are becoming less significant between EU member states’ –Chris Rumford (2006). Rethinking European Spaces: Territory, Borders, Governance, Comparative European Politics 2006(4), p. 131. Indeed, the igniters of the European project – the likes of Jean Monnet and Robet Schuman – had us to believe that the idea of borders is to be overcome in order to reach the ultimate aim of European integration. One of the core notions of the ‘European project’ was and still is the free movement of goods, services, and people. Yet, today’s picture of European borders is fairly away from the desires of Monnet and Schuman. One thing that is always to be reminded about managing the borders within the process of integration is that the more you integrate the spaces, and the closer you get to forming a ‘union’, the more internal borders you end up with. And they are, of course, to be managed wisely. The same applies to the EU. The integration gave the EU the necessity and responsibility of managing its new borders. The internal part of this necessity is the free movement of people and goods, whereas the external part is the process of enlargement. If not managed in light of a long-term vision, borders always carry the risk of causing more problems than they potentially solve. What we witness today is, for me, a reflection of the lack of a long-term vision about the European borders.

Today we see that it is not only EU’s external borders that are under tight control. Yes, they are ‘heavily policed, leading to a defensive shell designed to prevent seepage of the economic gains made by the EU in the face of economic globalization, and the unwanted influx of migrants from the near abroad (Rumford, p. 131).’ But with the recent refugee crisis, EU’s internal borders seem to be more, not less, significant. Member states such as Hungary and Austria are enforcing tighter border controls to defend (and, literally, fence off) their countries against the influx of refugees into their lands. It will perhaps be more accurate at this time to argue that the so-called ‘Schengenland’ is no longer ‘a region of unrestricted internal mobility’ (Andreas, 2003 – quoted in Rumford)’.

But what does this imply about the general perception of the ‘border’, a concept that is possibly one of the most important ones when it comes to a political notion like the ‘European integration’? One thing is that the management of the EU’s internal borders have proven that they are not properly prepared for an imminent influx of people from outside the EU’s own territory. This is one of the reasons why some of the member countries felt ‘left alone out there’ and imposed strict border controls such as building fences. It seems that, at the time of planning the ‘Schengenland’, the EU did not ponder how to deal with migrants in terms of its internal borders. Because of the relative ease of mobility in today’s conditions, it is at least theoretically not impossible for migrants to move from one EU country to another. They do encounter tragedies in their perilous journeys, but they somehow take the risk of walking through the railroads, and climbing over the stonewalls. In other words, they move within the EU once they enter into it.

This, however, does not provide justification to two things. First is the way the countries such as Hungary follow to deal with the issue. Coupled with the popular right-wing reactions, the authorities of these countries do not hesitate to implement orthodox methods. These practices remind me the medieval feudality where the European cities were surrounded by high walls with the aim of military defence. Secondly, the chorus singing the ‘end of European Union’ anthem has added a pinch of ‘Schengen subtlety’ to their melodies. They now argue that the EU may survive, but the Schengen has come the end of the road. This may be true or not, but the debate is surely a time-wasting effort. As I have argues in my previous pieces in thePriori, Instead of discussing what has come to the end and what is to be saved, I think we need to try to see the problems of the crisis we have in our hands today.

Let me finish by making an interesting point about the so-called ‘Schengenland’, borders and medieval feudalism. Although it is said that the borders of the past have become today’s symbols of free movement thanks to the post-WW2 integration in Europe, the recent trend of border closures across EU states makes me think otherwise. I am tempted to think that Europe was more ‘borderless’ when, for example, Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire was the heir of parts of Belgium and the Netherlands from his grandmother, and also of the Kingdom of Aragon from his grandfather. The idea of a European bureaucrat being the prime ministers of two different countries at the same time is nothing but a fallacy in today’s politics. Oddly, the ‘medieval transitivity’ poses an ‘ideal’ counter-example to the authoritarian way of dealing with the migration crisis in Europe.

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