Scale back Schengen ? Yes, Not, Maybe ?

, by Alessio Pisanò

Scale back Schengen ? Yes, Not, Maybe ?

The Commissioner Malmstrom’s announcement given on May 4th about possible changes to Schengen treaty has provoked different reaction within the EU. Some hailed the Commission’s position as a step forward an improvement of the treaty, others blamed the EU caving in to the pressure of Italy and France over migrants wave.

Commissioner Malmstrom, EU responsible for Home Affairs, gave a speech announcing the possibility to re-introduce limited checks at internal borders under “very exceptional circumstances” and following a common EU decision. These checks could be allowed just in case of a “sound threat to public order”, something far from the recent arrival of some 25,000 economic migrants from Tunisia, an event insufficient to trigger such a mechanism. Commissioner Malmstrom stressed the importance to give a response of “more Europe and not less”. Then she highlighted that the Schengen is a “fantastic achievement”, like the Euro, in the context of building up an effective European Union.

The debate over a revision of Schengen rules has been prompted by Italy and France’s wariness about the migrants wave coming from North Africa, migrants in need of protection after the Arab uprising. Mr Berlusconi and Mr Sarkozy called on the EU to endorse a reviewing approach aiming at change the rules of Schengen free-movement area. The French and Italian Presidents invoked the EU intervention by means an official letter sent on a backdrop of a peer to peer meeting in Rome. In the context of the migration emergency, the Italian government, notorious for his anti immigration policies, has granted permits to asylum-seekers to avoid traffic jams at its Southern borders and let them reach relatives in France. The France’s blockage at the border of some trains carrying African migrants served as a pretext to invoke changes at Schengen treaty.

Speaking on behalf of the Commission, Cecilia Malmstrom has shown to live up to the expectation finding a way to have a common position be accepted. “Changes are possible, given that some specific conditions are met”. Unsurprisingly the announcement has not been short of criticism. Socialists and Liberals in the European parliament advocate these measure would enable Member states to have knee-jerk reaction dealing with migration issues. They deplore the buck attempt of some Governments to convert Europe in a fortress reluctant towards helping immigrants. According to them, changing Schengen as a pretext of internal security unveil the real intention of such States, notably weakening the EU itself.

Others, such as Popular and Greens, welcomed the EC’s position as the right course of events. They stress that European countries are suffering from too strict rules which would hamper the European trust. Indeed Commissioner Malmstrom clearly underscored that eventual checks at EU internal borders might be introduce only over an EU decision and as a last resort.

Nevertheless, this still prompts concern. It cannot be denied that as a pretext of internal security most governments are trying to tighten up rules and assume the whole control of their internal and foreign policies, keeping the EU out. As is now the case, Italy and France are surely looking for an easy political consensus. Unfulfilling their responsibilities, they are putting the Schengen treaty as a whole at stake. But Member states’ requests need EU responses. Indeed ignoring their requests on immigration would further damage EU reputation increasing euroskepticism views within their borders. Many are outraged with EC neutral position, but at least it is a response. Condemning internal checks always without taking into consideration particular situation would be as a mistake as shutting down the borders themselves. What the EU should play is not an easy role. Commissioner Malmstrom is moving smartly towards a common EU policy taking into consideration Southern States’ worries. Doing so she talked about and “improvement” of Schengen and not just “changes”. What she definitely should be careful about is to walk the line of keeping both the treaty and Member states’ needs without being pushed to any irresponsible decision. So far she is doing good.

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