Schengen post-Berlin terror attack should continue

Foreign Affairs & Security
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Dr. Jon Stanley


Another month goes by, another Islamic supremacist murders Europeans for nothing more than his superior sense of hatred and we Eurosceptics decide that Schengen, obviously, caused this. It didn't.

It didn't even make it easier. Schengen has drawbacks which prevented the UK and Ireland joining it. That doesn’t mean it should be abandoned.

For decades the UK and Ireland faced massive security threats within our own Common Travel Area, identical to Schengen save for mandatory ID, which was why we never joined. Some terrorists were born in Belfast, others south of the border. So a mix of foreign and homegrown terrorists spent years slaughtering British civilians. The border had a heavy security presence but was never as such closed. 

Policing land borders selectively is very difficult and expensive and on the whole not practical, unless every road is blocked and the border fenced. The USA does do this, though that doesn't stop hundreds of thousands entering every year, hence ‘the wall’. If people are determined to get in, those people eventually will unless you have means beyond borders to track them and remove them from being a threat. 

That one terrorist suspect went through France, Belgium and Italy during the last few days is not relevant. The same could be said of anyone crossing multiple US state lines and in America state police can only cross state lines in special circumstances. For serious criminals, the USA created the FBI and Europe does have Europol and Interpol which we and other non-EU countries cooperate in it.

Criminals are criminals and we do have mechanisms to go after them. European campaigners of all colours are misusing the concept of freedom of movement of people. Schengen is not legally that because it applies equally to any passport holder within these member states. It is purely an arrangement to do with borders, not so radically different to how we manage Ireland. Cross-border institutions are key to the Good Friday Agreement and Eurosceptics were clear we had no ambition in scrapping them upon Brexit.

Schengen is failing because Merkel and others have behaved in a non-collegiate manner, riding roughshod over southern European states that have found themselves with an avalanche of migrants all keen to get to Germany as Merkel said they were welcome. These migrants also crossed countries outside of Schengen, including the Western Balkans who need like mass migration like they need, well, a crisis in the Balkans.

If anything should be scrapped in the new Britain-free EU, it is German dominance of European institutions. That country is too immature and dragged down by war guilt to be able to independently formulate a credible migration plan. It should stop trying. 

Instead, Schengen states should create their own cross-border institutions to keep the borders secure and be clear that within Schengen, police units need to be able to be dispatched across internal borders rapidly when required. The EU has done more than many realise in shutting off the West Balkan route for now. They should now turn to finally turning back all boats heading across the Mediterranean, as Australia did so effectively.

Schengen is no worse than any other setup that abolishes internal borders. The USA is not building walls between Arizona and New Mexico, nor Washington DC and Virginia. They have mechanisms in place to adjust to risks and, so too, does Europe.

If a car crashed in Germany on the right side of the road there may be some that say if only they drove on the left, like us, they'd be fine. Just because it would never work for us does not mean Schengen itself has to be written off. Merkel is quite another matter.

Dr. Jon Stanley is Health Research Fellow at the Bow Group, a Junior Doctor and a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons