News / Europe

Immigration, Financial Crisis Cast Doubt on Border-Free Europe

A member of the border police searches for illegal migrants on a railway bridge at the Schengen border with Croatia, June 20, 2011.
A member of the border police searches for illegal migrants on a railway bridge at the Schengen border with Croatia, June 20, 2011.
Lisa Bryant

As Europe scrambles to contain the financial crisis in the eurozone, another effort to deepen European unity is also being challenged, the Schengen passport-free travel zone.

Immigration, lax controls, corruption and sovereignty worries are undermining dreams of border-free travel.

Europeans now take for granted using the euro across the 17 countries sharing the currency. They also rarely think twice about crossing the borders of more than two dozen European nations without showing their passport. Launched more than a decade ago, the so-called "passport-free travel" Schengen zone now includes 25 nations, including some, like Switzerland and Norway, which are not part of the European Union.

European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who wants to set new rules for Schengen, argues its benefits are enormous.

"I think there is a general agreement about the importance of Schengen and the possibilities it gives for the citizens of the European Union and the Schengen member countries to travel freely, and we must really safeguard this fantastic achievement," said Malmstrom.  "It is also something really important for business, and it has facilitated life, and it has brought us huge benefits."

But today, Schengen's viability is being questioned. Last week, its members blocked Romania and Bulgaria from joining because of concerns they were not doing enough to fight corruption, crime and illegal immigration. Immigration fears are also eroding support for Schengen in countries that already belong like Spain, Germany, Denmark and France.

France, for example, reinforced controls on its border with Italy earlier this year to staunch a wave of illegal immigrants from North Africa. It joined Spain and Germany in expressing concerns about handing the European Union more say over Schengen.

The bottom line, says Brussels-based immigration expert Hugo Brady of the Center for European Reform, is a lack of trust.

"The politics of the Schengen area is that everyone wants more control over other people's borders while maintaining the same amount of control over their own... and that's the paradox of the matter," said Brady.

Today, anti-immigration politicians like European deputy Bruno Gollnisch of France's far-right National Front Party, are gaining public support with arguments that Schengen must either be tougher, or scrapped altogether.

"In France, we already have millions of immigrants and many social problems, and I think the country is absolutely crowded now… [in] the suburbs and big cities and we should have a different policy. Not only about people who come, but to try to - by cooperating with the original country - to have some of them at least going back home," said Gollnisch.

Greece, which is at the heart of the European debt crisis, also has Schengen's most porous borders. Experts say the vast majority of illegal immigrants cross its border with Turkey. For the moment, the European Union's Frontex border control agency has been shoring up the Greek border.  Athens shares no land border with other Schengen countries, hampering immigrants' efforts to move on.

Even as Greece's debt crisis has shaken European confidence, Brady says, so has its immigration problem.

"If the eurozone breaks up - which is now looking like a possibility - the resulting political and economic calamity would also spread to other major projects like Schengen," noted Brady.  "They would say, 'basically these people (the Greeks) have destroyed the next 10 years, how the hell would we trust them with something so sensitive as borders and immigration policy?'"

Brady believes European nations need to revamp Schengen and establish a better border monitoring system. While the prospects appear unlikely of dismantling the passport-free zone anytime soon, he says doing so would have a devastating impact on Europe's tourism and economy, just as the region is trying shake off the financial crisis.

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs