So started an interesting exchange of views about the future of Schengen yesterday – my tweet, and then a reply from European Commisson spokesperson Koen Doens:
Subsequent to the Twitter discussion, I’ve had some time to digest the letter Barroso sent back to Berlusconi and Sarkozy (you can find the PDF here) and, frankly, it’s not bad at all, and indeed contains plenty of positive points about how Schengen needs to be improved, although the letter does admit that reimposition of borders may be considered. The Guardian article to which I had linked only mentions the part about re-imposition of border controls, not the other answers provided by Barroso, notably to do with strengthening Frontex.
It strikes me that there is a game of brinksmanship going on here, and we are only hearing the side armed with a megaphone – Berlusconi (aided by his interior minister Maroni) and Sarkozy. On the other side we have the European Commission, and the Member States of northern Europe, who have rather little time for the protestations of the Italians, but are saying so in a more subtle, quiet manner, as with Barroso’s letter. This is the line from this Charlemagne blog post, and alluded to in the FT Brussels Blog here. Roderick Parkes also gives a good, comprehensive overview of the posturing, even questioning how serious the circumstances are that Italy is facing:
Back in March, Italy cried solidarity. Northerners resisted. So Rome regularised immigrants, sharing its problems with its immediate northerly neighbour France. Now France and Italy have teamed up to force support from their partners. If denied, they threaten to trigger the end of passport-free travel as we know it.
So what is the solution? The optimistic answer is that, so long as no real influx of immigrants materialises, the current panic will quickly resolve itself.
The problem with the protestations of Sarkozy and Berlusconi is that – knowing their appeals for assistance are going to fall on deaf ears – they step up the ‘put up the borders’ rhetoric, so much that the terms of the debate are changed, framing a re-establishment of border controls as the only viable solution (even if burden sharing is actually doing the job). With populist parties already on the rise across Europe, the Franco-Italian calls could be in danger of becoming a crescendo.
So how about a politician somewhere – in public – being willing to make an open, clear and determined defence of Schengen?
[UPDATE – 2.5.2011, 1800]
Thanks to a friend working on immigration policy I’ve been told that Germany took 432000 asylum seekers from the Western Balkans in 1992, while the number of Tunisians coming to Italy today is in the region of 25000. That would not seem to constitute ‘exceptional circumstances’, or at least less exceptional than Maroni speaks of. Amnesty has also gone as far as to argue that a lot of the issues in Lampedusa are of the Italians own making.