Schengen: Idyllic Confronts Present
By KAH LONG NG
Wir schaffen das! We can manage this! Reverberating still is Angela Merkel’s legacy-defining proclamation, many long years since the 2015 European migrant crisis. In its unfolding, several EU member states – France, Sweden, amongst others – acted against the long-standing Schengen agreement, unilaterally erecting internal border controls. Of late, these nations have extended the duration of their measures, with discussion of dismantling the measures conditional upon an Orwellian-like, continental-wide population tracking system. This again brings to the forefront contentious issues of privacy, right of exclusion and, cardinally, shaking foundations of the greatest liberal project undertaken – a united Europe.
The Schengen Area is one of the core elements representing the ideal Europe can be, where increased integration brings all citizens under a common destiny. The first steps lay in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, with the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1958 steadfastly removing customs barriers on their way to a Common Market. Schengen, which most EU nationals laud today in their hassle-free travel, was solidified by the ‘Cecchini’ report, which argued that Europe can only truly overcome trade barriers when the people move freely. The convincing nature of the report led to its enactment at the 1990 Schengen Convention. Supplementing it in law, the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty wrote into being the Schengen ‘Acquis’.
It becomes clear that Schengen was conceived as a means of economic propulsion, with its present ideological qualities – free movement of people – acting to further economic primacy. As critical theorists may argue the start, an unequal societal contract based on race, gender, and class, encapsulates its end, the need for structural destruction in order to be truly free. So recent policy reversals may not need to be heavily lamented.
What brought the walls up in 2015? Was the refugee crisis merely a front for politicians to enact particularistic measures? In turn, were hands tied for politicians, against an explosive media fanfare following the Paris Attacks? Amidst neoliberalism’s hegemonic victory over policy apparatuses, it seems unlikely that border restrictions would show that less paramount concerns were at hand. Furthermore, benefactors of these restrictions are right-wing, anti-immigration leaders, rising indomitably in European politics. One may ask, did their ascension come as a result of delivering these measures, or despite incumbents setting these measures? To the latter, why did incumbents – including Germany’s CDU Party – swiftly scale back open borders even in 2015? The monumental challenge of assimilating such sums of refugees is beyond the limits of this article but, suffice to say, there was indeed a Herculean task at hand, with Germany having since ‘lost’ more than a tenth of their 1 million refugees.
Did states really need an excuse? Those pointing at the European Commission (EC) to begin infringement proceedings are left floundered at why, instead, the EC is facilitating discussion – of the population data management shop talk. Did the EC recognize that the Schengen Area was a haphazard job critically lacking institutional frameworks and legal responsibilities? States left on their own accord to protect external borders, with spontaneous state deals (Germany paying Poland to strengthen policing refugees) being the name of the game in asylum management. One cannot help but place this side-by-side with the Eurozone crisis, where engendering a monetary union without combined fiscal powers created a policy deadlock. Moreover, what about culture? Europeans may be proud to commonly claim Homer and Socrates, but in the face of a cost-of-living crunch, even Merkel had a tough time convincing Germans to bail out the Greek and Spanish peoples, at whom less-than-genial cultural assumptions were hurled.
‘For such as we are made of, such we be’. Applying Shakespeare’s rhetoric to the situation herein, whether Europeans are willing and able to unite truly and wholly is unresolved since time immemorial and can aid thinking about the cracks today. Schengen is a village in Luxembourg where the Schengen Agreement was signed. In heeding the call of the relentless urbanist march, humankind cannot be faulted for romanticising idyllic European villages, and hope they are preserved – a hold-out, an inspiration, if you will. But alas, perhaps that never was the case.
Image: Flickr/ European Migrant Crisis