On Monday, the Telegraph had reported that France was planning to ask for a temporary suspension of Schengen at this coming Friday’s emergency meeting of EU ministers. A day later, reports emerged that France was backing off that extreme position, and would instead ask for a strengthening of the Schengen zone’s external borders. Now, the Guardian has got wind of the specifics of what the French have in mind:
A three-page list of demands […] calls for the rapid adoption of measures retaining passenger information on everyone travelling by air within the EU, a battery of new curbs on firearms sales and trading, a clampdown on and monitoring of cash transactions and other means of non-electronic payment, and greater intelligence-sharing across the EU.
It’s important to remember that Hollande had already asked for a strengthening of Schengen’s external borders after the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year, and was greeted with grumbles from European leaders who were not yet ready to act—or bear the financial costs. Maybe this time will be different.
Or maybe not. If recent history is anything to go on, we can probably expect more fudging and spinning: Eurocrats truly excel at one thing only, and that is kicking cans down the road.
And anyway, even if France was to somehow get everything it asked for, the security challenges presented by Schengen as it now stands would not be solved—not by a long shot. Schengen facilitates Europe’s interconnectedness, but a consequence of that interconnectedness is that any individuals who are a security concern remain a threat to all member states. Better intelligence-sharing would help, but the absence of border controls makes it much harder for police and intelligence services to track suspects. Likewise, guns bought in the arms markets of Belgium can be brought across the border to France without checks (as, in this case, they seem to have been). The curbs on arms sales being proposed by France don’t really address the larger problem.
Bigger, more ambitious reforms of Europe’s core institutions are needed. Unfortunately, pronouncements long on solidarity but short on specifics are what we are likely to get.
[Edited for clarity.]