Friday, June 24, 2016

Preventing Further Erosion to the EU: A United Schengen


by Andreas B. Olsson

First came the suspension of open borders within the Schengen area as the European Commission agreed to keep suspending free movement in the zone. Now, even worse, a major EU member nation has decided to exit the union completely. The dire state and threat to European unity cannot be overstated. The possibility of over half a century of peaceful integration risks unraveling. Now is the time to for the rest of the EU to not retreat from its promise to form a more perfect, peaceful union by letting nationalism spread like wildfire across the continent. The Marine le Pen’s and Alternative must not dominate the narrative of the next chapter in EU history. Letting them dominate the public space could cause the collapse of 21’st century European peace.



Fears about security and immigration have clearly gripped the block. The Leave campaign didn’t win just because they waived British flags and posed drinking a pint or two. They stoked fears rooted in real concerns about Europe’s inability to effectively control its common borders.

It’s possible that Brexit along with the security problems exposed by the multiple terrorist attacks in the last year, the Schengen agreement – the core of European unity – risks being permanently nullified; a first step in the dissolution of the European Union itself. A nullification of Schengen could mean the beginning of a slow death, which would be a devastating blow to global stability, commerce and civil society. But rather than being the problem, a strengthened Schengen could be the solution to a faltering EU now kneecapped by Brexit.
Because of the ongoing refugee crisis and continued terror threats, insidious, sometimes even blatant fears have been spreading across Europe. The Leave campaign successfully stoked these fears. And decades of European trust building across the English Channel was undone overnight at the ballot box. Where does this leave the most vivid example of Europe’s commitment to peace: the Schengen Agreement, a treaty allowing free movement across European borders once divided by military fortifications?

Having grown up in Europe, I experienced the fragmented world that threw our grandparents’ generation into two horrifying wars and had my generation thinking we were a stone’s throw away from a nuclear holocaust. A deep division ran like a scar across the continent.
Schengen marked a dramatic end to centuries of discord. But apparently, half of the British population has forgotten the horrors of 20’th century European nationalism.

Schengen was suspended to solve the same immediate problems that lead a slim British majority voting for Leave. Unfortunately, opening borders across Europe has not been accompanied by stronger integration. But the solution is not to eliminate open borders and pull up the drawbridge as the British are in now the process of doing. Instead, the European continent needs to overcome the balkanization of European security.

The most fundamental ideal on which the EU is based is a world of free exchange, dedicated as a whole and in its parts to a more productive and secure future. Border controls, once a permanent fixture along the Franco-German border, stood in stark opposition to this. Dismantling militarized borders and replacing them with trust and freedom of movement has been a glorious achievement for those of us who have experienced it.

Nonetheless, for our ideals’ sake we must be pragmatic. Tearing down all barriers instantly would cause our global organism to burst. Britain is not wrong in wanting to protect itself from outside threats. Without infrastructures to replace physical borders, civil discourse is quickly replaced with loud machine guns. Given our sometimes stark divisions, we occasionally need border security. But not on the bridges that separate France from Germany; and though it’s sadly too late, not at the entrance to the Chunnel nor the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.

Common socioeconomic circumstances, and values frequently called Western, are preconditions on which Europe united and erased borders. We should sadly note that these ideals had their origins on the British Isles that have now turned their backs on their own storied efforts to export them across the channel and the Atlantic ocean, and to the rest of the world.

European unity is a tremendous achievement that was made possible by these ideals. EU citizens are diverse in both language and culture. We don’t “look and feel alike” as some assume. Anyone who has walked through Paris or Berlin and travelled the continent knows this. And, unlike America, Europe isn’t committed to a national immigrant narrative.

Europe is largely held together by a generational grief, one that Britain seems not to have felt as deeply as the rest of Europe. Perhaps Brexit is partly a result of a false narrative and mythology of victorious glory. Perhaps many in Britain have forgotten the price that was paid on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

In contrast, on the continent on the other side of the channel our schools hold us to account for the sins of our parents. They hold forth evidence – footage, photographs, firsthand retelling – of what happens when nationalism goes awry and ethnic hatred rules. We know and learn that no one did this to us, we did it to ourselves – whether directly, through collaboration, or through acquiescence to past powers. Guilt is what drove Europe into a shared political sphere. Member states blamed not each other but the system that led to atrocities. A diminished EU and reinstated borders will ultimately be more detrimental than a boon, weakening bonds rooted in pain.

Given how the establishment of common security structures has lagged in the EU, there have been perhaps unavoidable steps backward. Though Brexit was an irrational reaction to security fears, the European continent shares part of the blame for making Brexit a reality.

To stop further hemorrhaging to union membership, immediate security improvements will be required to address flaws in national and local enforcement exposed through the earlier attacks against Paris and Brussels. However, better local policing and increased nation-to-nation intelligence sharing alone are insufficient to calm real concern fueling nationalists. What remains of Europe needs to debalkanize national police and military forces into a federal system. The objective isn’t to replace local measures but to “subsidiarize” them under an EU umbrella.

Some enforcement must be integrated into a single authority: FRONTEX, the EU agency coordinating border control. Having rapid response teams deployed during a crisis isn’t enough. All external borders forming EU’s core – the Schengen zone – both terrestrial and maritime, must gradually be handed over to FRONTEX. Patrols should be composed of employees from all member states. Officers would serve not only locally, but for a time at Schengen’s outer edges. Uniforms and equipment would carry common emblems. French officers would vet arrivals in Greece.

Spanish agents would serve at Poland’s eastern border. Danes would be stationed at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. To counter nationalist tendencies that are bound to be reinvigorated by Brexit, an EU culture must be encouraged that sees the union as a single safe space commonly in charge of its outer rim. Multinational teams have already been deployed to deal with the influx of refugees across the Mediterranean. The project for joint control began prior to Brexit and must be intensified.

Security is never perfect, especially if a criterion is to not stifle creativity and productive engagement. It can’t undermine the risk-taking central to artistic endeavors, innovation and successful ventures. Decentralized exchange of ideas, goods and services must be possible. The intent of the law and its enforcement is to prevent nefarious strongmen tactics that don’t prove the real value of products and services but simply show who’s the better bully with bigger guns. The EU – with its shared guilt for millions of deaths in past wars – has become a space where civil exchange can flourish. We have an obligation to safeguard and further strengthen its foundations, encouraging increased commitments to an integrated and federated security system. For the sake of peace and global stability, we cannot let Brexit be the first engraving on a tombstone that reads “The European Union (1951-2020)”.

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