Could the Charlie Hebdo attacks lead to the dismantling of Europe’s open borders scheme? It would seem farfetched: the freedom of movement is a pillar of the European project, and the Schengen zone is one of the EU’s most cherished accomplishments. But Europe’s leaders, blindsided by last week’s attacks, are questioning everything—including Schengen. According to The Financial Times:
At a hastily assembled meeting in the French capital, where 17 people were killed in shootings, ministers from 11 EU countries and the US called for increased intelligence sharing to tackle the growing number of “foreign fighters” returning to Europe.
Bernard Cazeneuve, French interior minister, said the EU’s external borders must be “strengthened” without changing European law, which guarantees free movement within the economic bloc.
… [But] Spain’s interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, raised the possibility of changing Schengen’s rules to allow some border checks “aimed at those people about whom there is a clear risk or a real suspicion that they could be terrorists”, in an interview with El País newspaper this weekend.
Europe is coming to the realization that not only does it have major security risks, but that they are compounded by parts of the European project that seemed integral. As we have pointed out before, the Schengen rules are written as though all of Europe was one homogenous entity, but enforced (or not, as it were) by bureaucracies that still act on behalf of sovereign state units. The result? An intelligence gap.
The EU is institutionally very conservative, and it is still unlikely that such a major change would pass: the inertia against it is still too great, and leaders such as Angela Merkel are already trying to find intelligence solutions, such as sharing flight manifests, that would avoid such a drastic move. (Although its hard to see how anything not hugely invasive would be able to track cross-border car travel.)
It’s hard to think of how Diaz’s position could be implemented without a return to some sort of system to check who’s coming in and who’s going out of a given country, and Merkel’s proposal is basically a softer, less-conspicuous version of the same. That all of this is being discussed is a big deal.