A permanent return to frontier controls in Europe would cost countries in the Schengen open-borders area about €110 billion over the next decade, the French government’s official think-tank said on Wednesday (3 February).
The Schengen agreement is a centrepiece of European integration. But, under pressure from voters alarmed by an unprecedented influx of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, several governments have already temporarily reintroduced controls at their borders with fellow European Union states.
A study by France Strategie, a think-tank directly attached to the prime minister’s office, said the drop in cross-border tourism and trade brought on by a permanent end of the free-travel area would cost Europe 0.8 percent of economic output over 10 years.
Germany reimposed controls on its border with Austria, after a record number of migrants travelled to southern Germany from Hungary, via Austria.
The influx of migrants also pushed Austria to restrict road and rail traffic on its border with Hungary.
The migrants entered the EU illegally, without Schengen visas.
Hungary became a hotspot as a gateway to the Schengen zone, so it built a fence on its border with Serbia.
The fence was much-criticised in the EU – but Serbia is outside Schengen, so Hungary argued that it was quite justified.
Hungary later erected fences on its borders with EU members Slovenia (in Schengen) and Croatia (not in Schengen).
On 4 January the focus switched to Schengen members Denmark and Sweden.
Denmark stepped up border controls with Germany, hours after Sweden extended identity checks on all travellers to reduce the influx of migrants.
Sweden is now refusing entry to anyone who has no photo identification.
It has slowed traffic across the Oresund road-rail bridge.
More than 160,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden last year – the highest per-capita figure in the EU.
In a December speech, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker insisted that free movement under Schengen would be safeguarded and “Schengen is here to stay”.
Schengen is often criticised by nationalists and Eurosceptics, such as the French National Front (FN), Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) and UK Independence Party. They say it is an open door for migrants and criminals.
When can countries reimpose border controls?
Under the Schengen rules, signatories may reinstate internal border controls for 10 days, if this has to be done immediately for “public policy or national security” reasons.
If the problem continues, the controls can be maintained for “renewable periods” of up to 20 days and for a maximum of two months.
An EU regulation in 2013 specified that such controls “should remain an exception and should only be effected as a measure of last resort, for a strictly limited scope and period of time”.
The period for temporary border controls is longer in cases where the threat is considered “foreseeable”. The controls can be maintained for renewable periods of up to 30 days, and for a maximum of six months.
But an extension of two years maximum is allowed under Article 26 of the Schengen Borders Code, in “exceptional circumstances”.
In the Schengen zone currently six states have border controls in place: Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden.
Hungary’s controls affect two non-Schengen states: Croatia and Serbia. Last October it also imposed temporary controls on the border with Schengen member Slovenia.
In 2005 France reimposed border controls after the bomb attacks by Islamist militants in London.
Austria, Portugal and Germany reimposed border controls for some major sporting events, such as the Fifa World Cup.
How are non-EU citizens affected?
A short-stay visa costs €60 (£44; $68).
But the visa costs €35 for Russians, Ukrainians and citizens of some other countries, under visa facilitation agreements.
The EU has no visa requirement for citizens of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia who have biometric passports. These Balkan nations all hope to join the EU.
Kosovo is excluded from the arrangement.
Non-EU nationals who have a Schengen visa generally do not have ID checks once they are travelling inside the zone. But since the Paris atrocity those checks have become more common.
Since the scrapping of visas for travellers from the Western Balkans there has been a surge in asylum applications from that region.
Most of the asylum claims are submitted in Germany, which already has well-established diaspora communities from the Balkans.
Now the EU aims to establish a common list of “safe countries of origin”, including the Western Balkans and Turkey. It would help speed up the processing of asylum claims, and give a legal basis for sending many applicants home.
sources: euractiv, quarz, express.co/uk