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The return of European borders?

Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi issued a joint statement calling on the European Commission to  “examine the possibility of temporarily establishing internal border controls in the case of exceptional difficulties" in response to an influx of migrants from North Africa. This would be a fairly major adjustment to one of the EU’s signature achievements, the ...

Marcel Mettelsiefen/Getty Image
Marcel Mettelsiefen/Getty Image

Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi issued a joint statement calling on the European Commission to  “examine the possibility of temporarily establishing internal border controls in the case of exceptional difficulties" in response to an influx of migrants from North Africa. This would be a fairly major adjustment to one of the EU’s signature achievements, the Schengen Agreement, which grants free passage accross borders within the union. 

Other EU government don’t seem to know quite how to respond, torn between not wanting to downplay the severity of the refugee issues and not wanting to repudiate Schengen: 

"If you can improve the Schengen system then that is good and you should," German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said Wednesday, reports AFP. "But travel freedom in Europe is such an important achievement that it should not be up for renegotiation."

In a parliamentary debate, Dutch Immigration Minister Gerd Leers said: "I will resist those who call for simply re-instating border controls, for that goes against an open Europe, but I welcome the debate on how to strengthen and improve the Schengen rules to combat illegal immigration, especially in these times of turmoil. "

Malta and Greece stressed the need for other member states to show ‘solidarity’ with southern rim EU countries. The tiny Mediterranean island of Malta is often a first port-of-call for migrants from Africa while Greece is struggling to secure its border with Turkey.

"I’m in favour of review providing it reduces the burden and does not make it heavier," said Tonio Borg, Malta’s deputy prime minister. "I hope the revision of the Schengen treaty will not mean creating walls and gates, but a move toward solidarity," he said.

Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas said: "Greece is open to a revision of Schengen, but that should help Mediterranean countries."

Like the euro, I suspect that open borders are too much a part of the contemporary European economy and social structure to roll back without a much more severe crisis. But the degree to which the defining achievements of European integration are now being questioned at high levels is striking. 

 Twitter: @joshuakeating

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