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The End of Schengenland?

Submitted by on May 14, 2011 – 10:15 pm 4 Comments |  
Map of Europe's Evolving BordersOver the past several decades, Europe has been dismantling border controls, creating the zone of free movement informally known as Schengenland. Although the Schengen area is scheduled to expand into the southeastern European Union countries of Bulgaria, Romania, and even divided Cyprus, such a development seems increasingly unlikely. Even in the core EU countries, the integration process is currently running in reverse. On May 14, 2011 an exaggerated headline in The Independent proclaimed that the “flood of North African refugees ends EU passport-free travel.” In actuality, “the EU” never had “passport-free travel,” as several EU countries (Britain, Ireland) remained outside the Schengen area, while several non-EU countries (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland) opted in. More important, passport-free travel within Schengenland has not ended. But it is threatened. In April 2011, French authorities began checking trains arriving from Italy, looking for undocumented North African immigrants. France insisted that such actions were unrelated to the establishment of border controls, but both France and Italy have proposed the re-establishment of border checkpoints in certain circumstances. A more far-reaching challenge to open travel came in early May 2011, when Denmark announced that it would reestablish controls along its frontiers with Germany and Sweden. Immediately afterward, the European Union threatened Denmark with legal reprisals.

Denmark’s action came about through a series of parliamentary negotiations. The country’s governing coalition includes the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, or DF), a right-wing, populist organization that advocates strict limits on immigration and is skeptical of European integration. The People’s Party also generally supports social welfare spending, provided that it is not oriented toward immigrants. Other issues, however, come first. The leading party of Denmark’s governing coalition, the center-right Liberal Party,* had been trying to phase out a costly early retirement program. Support from the People’s Party was necessary to push through the reform, but its leaders initially balked, wary of reducing governmental support for elderly Danes. Before signing on, they demanded a major change of their own: the re-imposition of border controls. The deal was subsequently accepted and pushed through parliament, putting Denmark at odds with the rest of the Schengen community.

The Danish government insists that renewed border controls are not aimed at immigrants, but rather at staunching the flow of illegal drugs and the activities of crime syndicates based in Eastern Europe. It is no secret, however, that the People’s Party wants further restrictions on the movement of people. The party, which won almost fourteen percent of the vote in Denmark’s 2007 parliamentary election, has already helped push through the EU’s toughest immigration rules. Further limitations are now being discussed. A recent report put together by five governmental ministries contends that existing restrictions have saved the Danish government five billion kroner (roughly 900 million dollars) per year since 2002, mostly from reduced social-service expenditures. As a result:

The government and its main ally, the Danish People’s Party (DF), intend to use the findings from the report to further tighten the immigration rules. …The [People’s] party also wants the local authorities to encourage immigrants who cannot find work in Denmark to return to their home countries.

If Denmark has saved money by restricting immigration, the same will almost certainly not be true in regard to the re-imposition of border controls. EU legal action against Denmark could prove costly, and the check-points themselves will be expensive to run. According to Gerd Battrup of the Department of Border Region Studies at the University of Southern Denmark, controls will result in a reduction of trade and tourism, and will also impose costs on “highly-skilled cross-border commuters, who would be discouraged by hassles and delays associated with border checkpoints.” If such commuters decide to quit their jobs in Denmark, Battrup argues, the Danish economy will suffer.

Denmark’s hardening of its borders might also impinge upon travelers from the United States. In late 2010, representative of the Danish People’s Party proposed instituting more thorough checks of U.S. citizens entering the country. “We have to acknowledge that the Americans haven’t had as good a handle on their counter-terrorism as we thought,” argued party spokesman Peter Skaarup. Particular scrutiny, his party contends, should be applied to “US citizens who have travelled many times to countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

* The party is officially called, in Danish, Venstre, Danmarks Liberale Parti, which translated as “Left, Liberal Party,” a rather ironic name for a center-right organization.

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  • Jim Wilson

    While I’m not sure, I think Venstre is one of the older parties. As a party of classical liberalism, it was probably on the “left” in the nineteenth century. I would imagine that it’s the rest of the political world that has shifted, not the Danish liberals.

  • Wilson: if you compare with the early or even middle 19th century, yes indeed. But in 1871 we already have the first communist experiment in Europe, the Paris Commune, which yielded its name to the ideology of Communism, and few decades later all parliaments saw liberals out, socialist in (grosso modo). We are in the 21st century, so comparing with 19th century is pointless: as good as comparing with the “political party” of Charlemagne so to say (would be Party of War, Aristocracy and Church or something like that).

    On Schengen:

    It is the first time I ever heard the word “Schengenland”. Being the author of this blog not European, I presume that the word has been just coined in some US newspaper and will maybe soon become popular, as happens with almost everything that comes from Hollywood (where Santa lives, I’ve been told).

    Regardless, I believe that Berlusconi and Sarko decided to fabricate the issue. I think this is a very low blow against EU in any case because the most popular attractive of EU is that you don’t need passport or visa anymore in order to travel and that you even have some (though not all) rights in the other associated states (for example you can vote in local elections or get health care locally at no cost, etc. – working without need of permit too, of course)

    Schengen is the only thing that EU is worth, really. If Schengen goes down the toilet, the EU follows the next day – I’m quite sure.

    Where do eurosceptic parties control a whole state? I say because it would seem like all Finno-Scandian states are about to leave EU, right? IMO it won’t make much of a difference for the rest of the union but in the particular case of Denmark, which has hidden problems extremely similar to those of Ireland, it may imply triggering the “bomb”.

  • Jim Wilson and Maju both make an important point about the changing meanings of the term “liberal.” Whenever I use the term while teaching, I point out that 19th century liberalism is not the same as current liberalism, and that the the term still has different connotations in Europe and in the United States. A bigger problem, or so I think, is the use of a one-dimensional “left/right” political spectrum, as in actuality political opinions exist in a much more complex multi-dimensional space.

    Interesting comments from Maju in regard to the Schengen area. Certainly from the perspective of non-Europeans traveling in the area, free travel is the major benefit of European integration. I am not sure that “all Fnno-Scandian states are about to leave EU,” but it is highly significant that the Euro-skeptical True Finns Party just took 20% percent of the Finnish vote. Voters here are very upset about subsidies given to Greece, Portugal and other economically troubled EU countries, which does indicate major problems for European integration.

  • Jim Wilson

    There were, indeed, any number of movements in late nineteenth-century Europe that saw themselves as being to the “left” of the Danish liberals. Within the Danish Rigsdag at the time, though, I believe the liberals were seen as being on the left.

    By that time there had been any number of socialist experiments. The Paris Commune of 1871, however, was not the source of the term “communist.” Messrs. Marx and Engels quite famously begin their 1848 _Communist Manifest_ by saying that a “specter is haunting Europe–the specter of communism.” Many of their followers saw (and still see) them as prophets, but surely they were not thinking of a failed uprising 23 years in the future.

    The “left/right” spectrum is, indeed, more confusing than illuminating. As I recall, it was dismissed as vacuous even when it arose in 1789. I always like watching political commentators trying to decide whether those who want to roll back the reforms of Deng Xiaoping are the right wing or the left wing of the Chinese Communist Party. Stalin could have told them that such people are left wing deviationaries, but that makes little sense in an American context.

    I don’t imagine anyone is going to pull out of the EU, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Germans tried to find some way out of the eurozone.