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 Obama Announces Plan to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obama details troop deployment and other pieces of US plan More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid