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If Schengen Collapses, the European Project Does Too

A united Europe is the only solution for dealing with the challenges of the future, but Brussels must stop thinking about the emergency. Interview with Emma Bonino

The flow of people that try to reach Greece from Turkey, in dangerous crossings that all too often end up tragically, does not seem to subside. The number of migrants that meet their death in the Mediterranean Sea increases, putting more and more pressure on the European institutions. The system put in place by the Schengen treaty has been brought into question by the decision of some countries, like Sweden or Denmark, to reintroduce border controls to prevent the flow of refugees into their national territory.



Europe is like a bicycle: if you’re on it but don’t pedal, it’s inevitable that you’ll fall,” former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former European commissioner, Emma Bonino told Oasis. The way in which the issue of migrants and the Schengen crises is dealt with, seriously risks making us fall of the bike, ending the ambitious European integration project. And yet, explains Bonino, the migratory phenomenon was absolutely predictable: history teaches us that when millions of people fleeing a war lose all hope of being able to go back home, they set their sights abroad just as any one of us would do. “This is a crisis affecting one of the wealthiest areas of the world which, with the best welfare system and with more than 500 million inhabitants, could surely manage if the current dimensions of the phenomenon itself are considered:” in 2015, more than one million migrants reached European soil, of which approximately 80 percent did so through Greece, as showed by the data of the European Council on Foreign Relations. In order to manage the emergency, a coherent vision and strategy are needed. Conversely, the direction in which we are going is “a situation of no return” because, underlines Bonino, “without a common immigration policy – not wanted at the time by the member states – we turned a complex problem into a full fledged catastrophe. In Europe everyone acts in their own self interests, thinking only from one emergency to the next.”



The blame is not be attributed only to the complex bureaucracy of EU agencies because according to Bonino “the European Commission tried to propose bold solutions,” but the intergovernmental negotiation process blocked them. The fundamental problem is that “Europe stopped midstream” on the road to integration and right where the current is strongest, it was first hit by the economic crisis and now by the migratory one. The difficult economic situation that began in 2008 is substantial because it showed how even then the responses, except for those from the governor of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi, were made at national levels rather than EU levels.



For this reason the system that guarantees free movement within European borders is seriously at risk. You can make a choice, warns the former Foreign Affairs Minister: review the Dublin Regulation which regulates the policies linked to requests for asylum or, which currently appears to be more likely, the abandonment of Schengen, “completely undermining the European project”. An opinion shared by the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi who, after a recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, affirmed: “If Europe loses Schengen, it loses itself.”



The end of the Schengen system would be a “dramatic event even from an economic standpoint,” according to Bonino. The President of the European Commission himself, Jean Claude Junker recently stated in a speech to the European Parliament that stopping free movement between borders for one hour would correspond to a cost of approximately 55 euros per car. Considering that more than 50 percent of exports of the main European states are headed for other member states, it is easy to understand what the impact of a total reintroduction of boundaries between EU members would be. Therefore it goes without saying that “a cultural pillar of the European integration process” would collapse alongside Schengen, making it clear how absolutely crucial it is for the Union to find a common way to deal with the migratory crisis.