By Alberto Mingardi
A few weeks ago I flew in and out of France – and I had to show my identity card at passport control. This was not that much of a nuisance, to be fair, and security officers were most kind, as if they had the sense that they were performing a delicate, and controversial, operation.
The Schengen Treaty was implemented in 1995, which means that for a person like me, a Western European born in 1981, this was effectively the first time in my life that I had to show my ID on the way to France. The refugee crisis on the one hand, and the terrorist attacks in Paris on the other, are creating a public opinion climate certainly favourable to the reinstatement of borders and a farewell to Schengen.
The European Union is a mixed bag, as are all human things, but Schengen granted people that freedom of movement that people valued, remembering life under the bombs in WWII and later in the face of the Iron Curtain that was dividing Europe in two. If Schengen is over, the EU will be over soon. Moving unchecked all around the continent is one of the very few things which gives people an impression of political unity. Take this away, and the justification for Brussels’ meddling bureaucracy will appear even weaker to national voters who are increasingly less willing to swallow it.
Rosemary Righter on Politico.eu disagrees and notes:
So what will be lost when Schengen has ceased to be? The essence of being European? The concept of a European identity?
Rubbish. On the contrary, I think the citizens of the EU’s nation-states will feel rather more relaxed about “Europe” once they believe they have some measure of control again over their own frontiers.
I doubt people have much of a “concept of a European identity”, save the few of us lucky enough to live by words and great ideals. But everybody has political demands, and understands what institutions can meet them. If the demand for security can be met by nation states, and the EU cannot deliver, people’s loyalty will further shift away from an institution that they once considered salvific, but now see as bureaucratic and wasteful.
I do not particularly care about the future of the EU. But what about the future of liberty?
Moving around without showing an identification sign may seem trivial, but it is liberty. When national IDs were introduced first, people who cared about liberty were hysterical: the system resembled a totalitarian device to track individuals down. Now it is common, and protesting against the demise of Schengen is seen as a bit childish.
I have difficulties in understanding when people talk about border controls. If you do not build the famous wall over the border with Mexico, borders tend to be porous: they are imaginary lines, after all. England can certainly control immigration better, as they’re an island and people are unlikely to swim across the Channel. But what about Germany and Austria? What about Spain and France?
Imagine a Europe of city-states. Controlling borders is relatively easy: because of the limited territory of each sovereign power (let’s assume that any of these small units is affluent enough to maintain the necessary police powers). But when we come to a Europe of nation states, the picture becomes much different. To the best of my understanding, border controls were lousy before WWI – and couldn’t be otherwise.
Effective border controls require extensive police powers, plenty of manpower employed by the military, and yes, some equivalent of the wall all along the Texas border. Hungary’s 4 metre-high fence along a 110-mile border is not a crazy way of doing immigration policy: it seems to me it’s pretty much the only way you have, if you really want to have efficient border control. Even with such a fence, it is dubious that people that really want to get in, won’t succed somehow to find their way, necessity being the mother of creative solutions.
Checking people’s passports at the airport is not much of a solution. Airline tickets bear the name of the passenger and thus can be controlled well before boarding, bags are checked and x-rayed. Can’t you find who you’re looking for, if you know who you’re looking for, before he shows you a forged passport? It seems to me that this kind of initiative is a government facade: pretend you’re doing something, so that people feel safer. But the facade of crisis management costs us liberty.
I linked, a few weeks ago, to a great piece by Chandran Kukathas, who pointed out that immigration control is really controlling everyone’s lives, regardless of where they are born. That seems to me even more relevant, now that Europeans are thinking about a response to both the refugee crisis and terrorism.