The free movement of people and goods is a fundamental idea of the European Union, and one that’s driven tremendous economic benefit to the region (not to mention the individual benefit from unburdening travel). It’s embodied in the Schengen Agreement and in other agreements.
The Schengen Area consists of 26 countries that abolished border controls with each other, effectively becoming a single country for travel. Ireland and the UK have opted out, but the area otherwise includes the vast majority of Europe. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland which are not part of the European Union are signatories to the Schengen Agreement.
When you enter a European country you go through passport control. If you connect at an airport to elsewhere in Europe you’re generally taking what amounts to a domestic flight. Travel within Europe, for the 400 million people inside the Schengen Area, is like travel inside the U.S.
Now, according to the Associated Press, “European Union countries are poised to restrict passport-free travel by invoking an emergency rule to impose controls at several borders for two more years because of the migration crisis.”
- Countries can impose border controls for up to 6 months
- However that can be extended to 2 years “if a member is found to be failing to protect its borders.”
- And that’s what they’re prepared to find with respect to Greece.
The documents show that EU policy makers are preparing to make unprecedented use of an emergency provision by declaring that Greece is failing to sufficiently protect it border. Some 2,000 people are still arriving daily on Greek islands in smugglers’ boats from Turkey, most of them keen to move deeper into Europe to wealthier countries like Germany and Sweden.
The EU gave Greece until early May to improve its border security, and acknowledges the government is “making progress.” But ferners are scary. And the EU needs cover because individual countries may extend border controls indefinitely on their own. And so they believe they have to impose border controls to save Europe from border controls. Or something like that.
European countries are reluctant to dismantle their emergency border controls. And if they keep them in place without authorization, EU officials fear the entire concept of the open-travel zone could be brought down.
A summary written by an official in the EU’s Dutch presidency for a meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers last month showed they decided that declaring Greece to have failed in its upgrade was “the only way” for Europe to extend the time for border checks. The official said they agreed to invoke the two-year rule under Article 26 of the open-travel agreement.
The EU is scambling to find a way to allow Germany, France, Austria, Denmark, and Norway to continue their Intra-European border checks, out of fear that they’ll do it whether EU rules permit it or not.