Scotland’s independence, Schengen, and today’s border reivers

border_reiversWith this week’s issuing of the white paper ‘Scotland’s Future’,  the Scottish government  has officially launched its campaign for the September 2014 referendum on independence. If successful, Scotland would (re)gain full sovereignty and thus control over its destiny. What that means in practice is that Edinburgh, among other things, would be able to exert control over its newly independent territory, including its borders. The Scottish-English frontier would then become Europe’s latest “t

errible reality” (as Dion back in the 1940s referred to Europe’s post WW2 frontiers). Yet, politicians in the Scottish government have quickly dismissed the claims (rumors?) that a modern day Adrian’s wall would be erected  between modern day Caledonia and Britannia – rumors that originate, not surprisingly, mostly from south of the future border). No new fortifications, no customs and passport checks.  And above all – vade retro satana! – Scotland will be not forced by some nasty (continental) Europeans to join the Schengen regime. Scotland will therefore be free to reclaim its land border. Or maybe not. It would take it back, but just symbolically. The UK (or what would be left without the Scots) will not be compelled to open a northern flank in its battle against the masses of (Continental) Europeans yearning to breathe free (and  work) in modern day Albion. Or maybe they will. After all, an independent Scotland, even if outside Schengen, might still feel like inviting those  irritating (Continental) Europeans. And then who would check whether they’ll be sneaking down south? The twisted nature of this debate (and of the motivations of those behind it), then, seems to conjure the re-appearance in modern  guise of an epic and controversial figure that characterized the lawless territory constituting the pre-Union Anglo-Scottish borderland, namely that of the border reiver. Border reivers were individuals (both of Scottish and English descent) who raided the areas around the Anglo-Scottish frontier and robbed their victims of their belongings with no regards to the victims’ nationality. Crucially, governments on both sides of the border were either turning a blind eye or even actually encouraging their actions, because reivers would do the dirty work against the other side that governments were either unwilling or unable of carrying out. What modern day rulers should keep in mind, however, is that border reivers were notoriously unreliable, switching side when convenient and even plundering those who ostensibly they had vowed their allegiance to.  From wherever side of the Anglo-Scottish fence you might sitting today, a sound piece of advice would be: behold all these novel border reivers!


Much ado about On the latest ‘Schengen governance package’

Any surprise in the Schengen package

Any surprise in the Schengen package?

Finally! After a tortuous two year gestation, Europe’s triumvirate – pardon, Troika (European Parliament/Council/Commission) -has agreed upon a package of proposals aimed at rendering Europe’s border control regime more effective and predictable. The push for reform came in the aftermath of the spat between France and Italy over the handling of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in the wake of the 2011 Arab spring.  The main issue arising from this affair was the need to clarify (and possibly expand) the nebulous rules about the re-imposition of national border controls in cases of “serious threat to public policy or internal security”. At first sight, this seems to be just a technical issue. Only boring policy wonks (like me) could consider interesting (exciting?) questions such as ‘How many days can a member state re-impose border controls?’, ‘Under what conditions?’, ‘How and when should EU institutions be informed?’. What a snooze! Well, maybe not so much. These questions are actually more intriguing than they might seem at first sight. Forget for a moment the technocratic language in which the current public debate about the Schengen governance package has been couched (an art the EU is very good at). If we scratch the surface we can see that at the core this matter is eminently political. And with politics, comes drama! The issue here is the ongoing power struggle among the EU triumvirate over the distribution of competences within the Schengen regime. In other words: who is in charge? How else should we read then the posturing, maneuvering, arm twisting that has characterized the Schengen reform saga in the last two years? (Emblematic here is the EP’s ‘nuclear option’ of boycotting the negotiations over the justice and home affairs agenda if the Council did not withdraw the ‘outrageous’ decision to purge the parliament from the Schengen evaluation process)

This is Schengen politics at its best (or worst, depending on the perspective). Pragmatism, especially the reliance on ad hoc and flexible institutional arrangements and procedures, is in Schengen’s DNA, a trait which Europe’s border control regime acquired in its early intergovernmental days outside the EU and that it has not completely got rid of after its communitarization in the late 1990s. Indeed, I would go a step further and argue that its incorporation in the EU has not really de-Schengenized Schengen; looking at the EU today I see the ongoing Schengenization of the EU, not the other way round…. This pragmatism is only superficially a-political. Political is in fact the move of depoliticizing highly contentious issues by repackaging them as merely technical matters and by sheltering the policy-making process from the public eye.

It is in this pragmatist light that we should read the latest announcement about the Schengen ‘package’. The fact that a compromise was reached (the establishment of an evaluation and monitoring mechanism  jointly managed by the European Commission and member states; changes to the Schengen border code to include new circumstances in which border controls can be re-instated) despite the tensions and reciprocal threats and vetoes from the major actors involved in this saga, is not such a miracle after all. That’s how Schengen ‘normally’ works. In the past, bouts of what seem existential ‘crises’ that periodically hit the regime, have been solved (at least temporarily, until a new crisis erupts) with the proverbial political pat on the back. What this solution  – political one, since political crises cannot be solved if not through political solutions – comes down to is a revamping of old tacit rules, vague enough so that everybody can see what one likes. This sleight of hand, however, might not overcome the very problems it sought to address, possibly creating new ones. Are we sure member states are going to allow EU institutions (the Commission, Frontex) to assess their ability to manage their borders and accept their suggestions?  Will member states really wait for the Commission’s evaluation (which could take up months) before re-imposing internal border controls in the case of another member neglecting to fulfill its duties at the common external border?  If the past experience is of any indication, I would not be so optimistic… Indeed, even if the rules of the game have now been more clearly spelt out, it is obvious that they can be interpreted with substantial latitude. With Schengen, the main culprits are typically member states, but EU institutions are quite apt in the art of liberal (i.e. expansive) reading of agreed upon rules. What do we make of all that? Well, the same old story. Schengen has a capacity to withstand phases of internal turmoil, such as the one that followed the Italo-French spat. The way it manages these recurrent crises is as we humans do when under stress (NB: for those who from time to time stumble upon my blog, you’ve probably noticed my penchant for medical metaphors…). What do we do? Typically, we switch to an ‘emergency mode’. We’re ready for the worst, and act as if the worst can happen. We question our routines, and, if needed, we try to tweak them. We make new resolutions to avoid problems in the future. But this is just a temporary coping strategy. Once we are persuaded that everything is OK, we switch off the emergency mode. And then we return to our previous routine. The Schengen triumvirate seems to be following this path, shaking hands and congratulating themselves for the new deal. Until, of course, a new crisis disrupts the newly achieved consensus and we start hearing calls for ‘clearer rules’… The latest Schengen package reform? Much ado about nothing new…

The Iron Lady’s Schengen legacy: of commonsense, border fixations and Jacobin hubris

And the Schengen flag too?

And the Schengen flag too?

It is a bit of understatement to say that Margaret Thatcher was no Schengen fan. In her vitriolic  attacks on ‘Europe’ as a political project, she did not spare what she believed was an unnerving and ultimately quixotic quest to dilute, and ultimately dissolve, British sovereignty, a quest concocted by naive continentals, or worse still, by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels.  As she put it in the notorious ‘Bruges Speech’, the political manifesto of British Euro-scepticism, “it is a matter of plain common sense that we cannot totally abolish frontier controls if we are also to protect our citizens from crime and stop the movement of drugs, of terrorists and of illegal immigrants.” Commonsensical are also the reasons why national borders should  persist: “I did not join Europe to have free movement of terrorists, criminals, drugs, plant and animal diseases and rabies, and illegal migrants”. (Certainly not the Europe of peace and goodwill that Jean Monnet envisioned…) In Thatcher’s ‘commonsensical world’,  the triad borders/security/state is so ingrained in our collective understanding of what border control means as to not require further explanation. Borders and security are indissolubly linked, and national governments (as opposed to supra-national institutions) should be in charge of this issue. From this perspective, Schengen can only be an aberration.

And yet, despite her visceral opposition to continental Europe’s experimentation with territoriality, Margaret Thatcher has played a fundamental role in the making of Schengen as we know it today. The Iron Lady’s trenchant critiques have set the terms – and the tone – of the debate about this eminently political project. Schengen supporters (be it in Brussels or in European capitals) have had to come to terms, adapt and respond to the ‘nationalist backlash’ that she so powerfully and persuasively unleashed. The former British prime minister also embodied one of the major obstacles (yet to be fully overcome) hindering the full realization of a post-national vision of territoriality in Europe, namely the persistence among European policy-makers and the population at large of what I call ‘border fixation’. Despite claims that traditional territorial boundaries are ‘passé’, borders have not lost their appeal. For some commentators, this fixation is baseless. First of all, advocates of hard borders tend to exaggerate the demand for them. Uncontrollable mass movements of population across frontiers are, after all, rare events. Moreover, borders cannot (and arguably never did) effectively achieve one of the main goals they were established for, namely, preventing unwanted entries into a territory. These arguments are well founded, but they do not take into consideration that the appeal of borders does not stem (or at least not solely) from their ‘material’ functions; instead, it is based on the powerful psychological need for order and stability in a community. The leap required to go beyond this border fixation would therefore entail the embracing of a new type of post-territorial governance where this need is addressed in a different fashion. Europe is not new to far-reaching and ‘unimaginable’ transformations. The Old Continent is a constant work in progress, an open-ended experiment that has been re-adjusted in light of new events or circumstances in the past. Yet, given the current gloomy and inward looking political climate, the conditions to overcome the long-lasting fascination with borders do not seem ripe. And even if they were, we should nonetheless heed to Margaret Thatcher’s admonition about the Jacobin tendencies (viz. radical and hyper-rationalist) that she so strongly despised in the European project:

“…look at the architecture of the last fifty years — look, in particular, at the architecture that went beyond the modern to the futuristic. It was certainly a very dramatic architecture but the one thing it no longer expresses is the Future. What it expresses is yesterday’s vision of the future. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la politique.”[1]

Schengen’s ‘architects’ seem to have listened to Thatcher’s warning about Europe’s institutional hubris. One of the policy regime’s signature traits is in fact its flexible and pragmatic design, which has allowed it to withstand turbulent times, wobbly political will and recurrent bouts of skepticism during its three decade long history. The Iron Lady would probably balk at the idea, but helping Schengen thrive might well be part of her vast political legacy…

[1] Margaret Thatcher, “Europe’s Political Architecture”, Speech in the Hague, May 15, 1992, Thatcher Archive

Is it just an illusion? On Europe’s ‘common’ migration policy

The question of the role and impact of the European Union and its institutions on European politics has been at the core of major political and academic debates since the project of regional integration was launched more than 60 years ago[i]. It may be a sign of the (troubled) times that the discussion now seems to be turning to the more ominous issue of whether the EU is relevant at all, or, in the most apocalyptic scenarios, whether it can survive its current state of economic and political turmoil. Until recently, few commentators would have explicitly pondered the ‘relevance question’ in such pessimistic terms.

Of late, however, EU-bashing is no longer the extremist activity it used to be in the (not so distant) past, with a few mainstream voices joining the chorus. As a result, ‘Brussels’ is being blamed for all kinds of ills affecting the continent. The response to the EU’s recent Nobel Prize award is revealing.  For some, it was well-deserved, given its important contribution in rendering the Old Continent a less belligerent place, although even the most ardent Europeanists would admit that the timing of the award was a bit awkward. For others – arguably the majority of commentators – this award bordered the blasphemous, given the Union’s current economic and political predicament.

Without doubt, opinions of the European Union are strong and polarized. These reactions, whether they are polemical or hagiographic, often share a lack of sound argumentation and solid empirical evidence to back up their claims. It is for these reasons that I have found Suzanne Mulcahy’s book Europe’s Migrant Policies a particularly welcome addition to the debate about the Union’s relevance in contemporary European politics. The book assesses the role that the EU is playing in the development of common migrant integration policies across the continent. The author focuses on three of the key components of this policy area (immigrant integration, civil integration, and migrant enfranchisement) and examines how their main principles have been elaborated, negotiated and implemented by EU institutions and member states. Since the 1990s the EU has been particularly active in fostering a common approach in this policy area. As Mulcahy argues, however, not only has actual convergence has been limited, but the EU has also not played a major role in this process – even when convergence around EU norms has indeed occurred. On one hand, member states have chosen different paths (some following EU standards, others their own ‘national’ approach). On the other, the convergence (or lack thereof) around common European principles and practices (such as the Common Basic Principles agreed in 2004) has had more to do with internal factors, such political culture and the containment of extreme right-wing parties, than EU institutions and their actions. Hence the claim that integration in this policy field is an illusion.

These findings are a cautionary tale for those who believe in the power and inevitability of European integration. They also challenge some of the Europeanization literature’s central claims, especially those of the so-called ‘downloading’ model (according to which policy convergence is mainly a EU-driven phenomenon), but also the more nuanced ‘Interactive Europeanization’ model in which policy convergence is the result of a sort of virtuous cycle involving both member states and EU institutions. The author does not find evidence of either of these dynamics affecting migrant policy in Europe. Mulcahy concludes that unless the EU backs up its ‘soft law’ approach with more legally binding instruments (as it has been the case for other policy areas such as discrimination) then the prospects of convergence in this policy realm will remain grim. The same dynamics affecting migration policies may also hold true in other areas of European integration, and thus a more sophisticated reading of their evolution which takes seriously the domestic politics dimension is required.

The argument presented in Europe’s Migrant Policies is nuanced, theoretically sophisticated and based on empirically rich material from a variety of country case studies. The bleak picture Mulcahy paints of Europe’s allegedly ‘Europeanized’ migrant policies is thus persuasive and consistent with the current generalized disillusionment with the European integration project. Yet, while understandable, the pessimism that transpires in the book may be overstated. By using the claims of the interactive Europeanization literature as a point of reference, the author has implicitly set the standards high. Indeed, compared to other policy fields, EU-led integration in migration matters has been disappointing. A different picture emerges, however, if we consider the specificities of the migration field in Europe and the political dynamics that underlie it. After all, migration has been, and to a large extent still is, the domain of member states. Despite the recent expansion of EU competences in Justice and Home Affairs (under which migration mostly falls), national capitals are still reluctant to delegate responsibilities in this policy area because of the sensitivity of the subject matters it deals with. As a result, the EU still lacks effective legal and political instruments to compel member states to establish and implement common European norms. Given this, it is surprising that any EU-led convergence – or, for that matter, convergence in general – is occurring at all.

While migrant policy in Europe may indeed be suffering from an ‘illusion of integration’, this state of affairs does not need to have the negative connotations typically associated with this term, namely that of distortion or misinterpretation of facts. Most European policy-makers (and pro-integrationist commentators) are well aware that greater integration is a not a straightforward, effortless endeavour, and that in order to overcome practical and political obstacles, pragmatism needs to be matched with a degree of long term visionary thinking. Migrant policy is not an exception to this rule. Despite its current foes, a degree of illusion is what this policy field might need after all.

[i] A version of this blog entry has appeared in the London Schools of Economics’ on line Review of Books.

Nobel vs. Schengen: reflections on the EU, the peace award ceremony… and John Terry

Awarding the most coveted peace prize to the European Union was no doubt a well-staged coup de théâtre. Not surprisingly, the decision has infuriated the (ever growing) battalion of Euro über-skeptics, who have cried foul. Crowning a freshly minted US president with little to show for as peace-maker (as the Nobel committee did in 2009), baffling as it might sound, can be written off as naive wishful thinking . But the EU? The new leviathan that is currently taking the continent down the drain? The Devil impersonated?  Come on!  The Nobel committee, however, has managed to achieve another, and arguably more difficult, feat, that is to embarrass the pro-EU crowd, especially those in the halls of power who still (claim to) support the European project. They might not dare to say it openly – after all, this prize is a recognition of the positive impact that the Union has had on putting the continent’s history of conflict and destruction behind. In normal circumstances, these kinds of awards are the best you might wish for. But these are not normal circumstances. It is an understatement to say that the EU has gone through better days. A prize now? Awkward…  Indeed, EU leaders might feel the same type of unease that surrounded (then) English football captain John Terry, who in 2009 won a prize as ‘dad of the year[i],  although he was cheating on his wife…[ii]. (In fairness, revelations about the footballer’s extra-curricular activities came ex post facto, unlike the EU case, where the award committee was well aware of the recipient’s current record…).  Intriguing as it might be, this story does not end with the controversial decision taken back in October in Oslo.  Even around the time of the actual award ceremony (known as ‘Nobel days’), the spectacle continues – now taking on the features of the comedie de l’absurd.  As a precautionary measure, Norway – the host country – has decided to reinstate controls at its frontiers to prevent possible troublemakers to ruin the event.  The irony is not lost in this move. Norway, a non EU member who is a member of Schengen – Europe’s border free regime – temporarily has suspended EU rules regarding freedom of movement to celebrate  the Union’s achievements, including – ehm – cross continent freedom of movement. So, while frontier controls are supposedly not an effective tool against cross border criminal activities – as the EU mantra goes –  they are indispensable to protect EU leaders attending a ceremony in which they hail themselves as beacons of freedom. Worth repeating: awkward!

Contradictions are an integral part of politics. After all, politics is the art of the possible,  of rendering the absurd normal and the unacceptable tolerable. Which makes me wonder: might be John Terry heading to Oslo next year (and not for a football game)?

On the quirks of Europe’s immigrant (dis)integration policy

Europe’s anxiety spreads…

The Old Continent’s anxiety is spreading around its fringes. Once again, Schengen docet.

Making sense of Schengen’s contradictions

What a snub! Last June,  the European parliament (EP),

Twisted & thorny

in an unprecedented move, suspended cooperation with the EU’s other main legislative body, the European  Council, following the latter’s decision to exclude the EP from the supervision of the Schengen free travel zone. This is just the last of what is becoming a long series of bumps in an already troubled journey Schengen has faced in the last year. The attempt by member states to effectively ‘renationalize’ the regime has also revamped long standing criticisms levelled against Schengen, such as the fact that it is a top down system lacking democratic control and input, its flexible method has damaged the EU’s institutional coherence, it over-emphasizes security over freedom, it has a negative impact on Europe’s neighbours and non EU citizens, and its expansionary drive can lead to overstretching…  What a damning list! Bad as they might sound, in reality these are the very features that have rendered Schengen so successful in the first place…But they are also what might lead to its demise in the long run… What follows is my attempt to unpack this apparent contradiction.

The fact that Schengen is an elite-driven and undemocratic enterprise has prevented an open discussion about the actual meaning of ‘European border’ from taking place. In a national context, the legitimacy of the state as main provider of security  is based on the protection of citizens qua nationals. With Schengen, it should be based on shared protection, but the current arrangement lacks a genuine sense of solidarity and shared identity of the protected. This shared identity must emerge for the peoples of Europe to fully accept a common external frontier and the abolition of police controls on frontiers between them. Since the regime’s inception, Schengen’s popular support has been mainly passive, and based on practical results of the policies introduced. Its relative shallowness is reflected in the fact that popular opinion has fluctuated depending on the issue at stake and the mood of the moment. This condition seriously weakens Schengen’s legitimacy, and it could hurt the long-term success of the initiative.

If the lack of popular support has prevented Schengen from gaining greater legitimacy, its reliance on flexible methods has created political and legal fragmentation in the policy-making process. The result has been increased complexity and diminished transparency. These issues were a source of concern before Schengen was incorporated in the EU, and they remain so today, given the undiminished appeal of ‘enhanced co-operation’ arrangements in the area of justice, security and freedom.

Even more worrying is the potentially self-destructive dynamic stemming from Schengen’s ‘internal security dilemma’. According to this logic, security is a necessary precondition for the establishment and expansion of freedom in a given community. The quest for security, however, can never be completely fulfilled, since this is an inherently subjective and unstable condition. As a result, security feeds more security, and the process can potentially go on ad infinitum. One of the side effects of this ‘hyper-securitization’ is that the policies it entails become almost exclusively repressive, since they are aimed at sealing off Europe from potential threats. This explains why Schengen has been opposed by civil libertarian groups in current member states and it has created widespread suspicion and resistance among Europe’s neighbours. It also explain why it has been fiercely contested by critically oriented scholars and activists who consider Schengen a vehicle for the imposition of a particular gendered, raced and classed vision of reality.

The prospect of new states – even current EU members states such Romania and Bulgaria –becoming fully integrated into the Schengen space represents another serious challenge to the regime’s future viability. The quest for expansion was part of this project since the very beginnings, and this feature was maintained with its incorporation in the EU. A potential implication of this ‘bigger is better’ logic is that the system may become overstretched and eventually lose momentum and effectiveness (not to mention its function as laboratory for the EU). Arguably, the EU’s main post-enlargement challenges stem from the increased political, structural and implementation capability diversity that the new members will bring. All these differences will remain after enlargement (if it ever occurs), rendering common decision-making in border control matters more problematic.

Steps have indeed been taken, or at least discussion is ongoing, to address some of these shortcomings. So far there have been proposals to make the policy-making process in justice and home affairs more transparent. These discussions have focused on increasing transparency through better information on objectives and progress to parliaments, the media and the citizens, as well as more effective parliamentary control. Ideas to expand and render more meaningful EU citizenship are going in the direction of creating a sense of solidarity and shared identity among Europeans. The European Commission has been the most vocal in ensuring that concerns over security do not overshadow the ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ objectives of the EU, thus guaranteeing a better balance in the delivering of these public goods.

Despite these attempts, addressing Schengen’s shortcomings will be difficult. The main reason is that these elements in the Schengen experiment are, ironically, also some of its major assets. These features were instrumental in allowing the border control policy community to go beyond the nationalist commonsense. In terms of participation and democratic control, opening up the debate over Schengen would have weakened the community’s effort in pursuing it. Flexibility was one of Schengen’s major strengths, since it allowed European policy-makers to avoid getting bogged down in legal and bureaucratic wrangles or the vetoing by individual countries, as often occurred in the EU. The emphasis on security, especially at Europe’s external borders, was aimed at soothing popular anxieties that the lifting of internal frontiers was believed to create. Limiting the rights of neighbours and non-EU citizens has become the price paid in order to expand the rights of EU citizens, and more generally a way to externalize the negative implications of the newly created area of free movement. Finally, the continuing expansion of the regime, now including the new EU members, represents a politically expedient means to solidify the regime and to guarantee its survival.

            The tensions within Schengen have so far been contained, because of the political support it has among most existing members. This support, however, has been seriously tested recently (see, for example, the recent brouhaha over the right of individual member states to re-instate borders in cases of emergency ) and that might create problems in the long term, and even lead to the unthinkable, that is a Europe without Schengen.

Schengen’s enlargement anxiety

The doom and gloom that currently pervades the Old (moribund?) Continent has rendered its citizens and politicians particularly jittery. It is not surprising, then, that even Schengen, often hailed as one of the most successful stories of European integration, is under strain. This tension has taken different forms. I have already discussed in this blog how of late some Schengen members (e.g. France) have repetedly moaned about the regime’s (alleged) shortcomings and called for its rehaul. This sense of unease has also affected the present debate about Schengen’s expansion. Romania and Bulgaria, who joined the EU in 2007, want to join Europe’s free travel area as well. Despite having met the necessary legal and technical requirements (at least according to the EU experts who have evaluated their bid), their membership is still pending. The main bone of contention is well known: the mistrust of some member states (the most vocal being the Netherlands) over the candidates’ capacity to uphold Schengen’s standards. Particularly problematic in their eyes is the persistent high levels of corruption and organized crime in the two South-Eastern European countries, phenomena which are believed to affect their ability to manage what would become de facto Europe’s borders.  The degree to which Romania and Bulgaria have made actual progress towards overcoming these problems is a matter of debate. Be it as it may, Bucharest and Sofia’s actual or perceived shortcomings regarding border control, coupled with a growing anti-EU and anti-freedom-of-movement sentiment in some Schengen members – have created an explosive mix that have rendered this crisis almost ‘inevitable’. The convergence of the two candidate countries’ reputation and Schengen members’ domestic politics is a plausible explanation for the current tensions in the Schengen regime, and one that it is shared by commentators and policy-makers alike. However, the bleak conclusion that that is typically inferred from this account, namely that the regime is entering into an inward looking phase of retrenchment, with limited prospects for future enlargements, is premature. The current dispute over the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, while certainly troublesome, is not unique in the history of the Schengen regime (Italy’s membership bid in the 1990s, for example, turned out to be a politically charged saga that lasted for almost a decade). On the contrary, this dispute can be considered as the latest symptomatic example of an enduring – and so far unsolved – tension within the regime between, on one hand, an in-built propensity to constantly expand in order to maintain the myth of Schengen as success story of European integration and, on the other, the fear of losing this very status because of overstretching, and, more generally, the fear of the unknown that the admission of new and untested members entails. This inherent tension is expressed in enlargement anxiety. As a psychological condition, anxiety is the result of high levels of uncertainty and overcommitment that an individual might face in his/her everyday life. One of the ways in which anxiety manifests itself is through resentment, which typically takes the form of overly critical language – including insults – and bullying against a designated scapegoat. From a psychological perspective, the function of resentment is to temporarily release in relatively controlled manner all, or part. of the tension affecting an individual. Seen in this light, the Romania and Bulgaria affairs is not just a cruel rite of passage, in which the two countries are enduring series of humiliating tests in order to become ‘proper’ members of the club, but also a sort of cathartic process in which current Schengen members, by vocally expressing their misgivings about the candidates, yet not rejecting their plight outright, assuage their fears and are persuaded to accept the new round of club’s expansion.  The Romanian and Bulgarian governments can only hope that this healing exercise quickly runs its course, so that Schengen’s chronic anxiety can be channeled against somebody else….

Déjà vu: Sarkozi and the spread of Schengenitis

Here we go again. Under pressure domestically? Opinion polls down the drain?Need to boost yout tight-on-immigration stance? Blame Schengen, the source of all ills!  Sarkozi docet ( Hmmm, didn’t the French government play the very same political card not that long ago? Remember the temporary closure of the border with Italy aimed at preventing the ‘orde’ of North Africans fleeing the turmoil caused by the Jasmine revolutions? The French, of course, are not the first, and probably not the last, to acquire this sudden revulsion of all things Schengen .  The Danish for  a while showed signs of this condition too (before the newly elected centre-left government managed to contain it), and others have periodically been affected by it – even if just in its milder forms.  Schengenitis, however,  is not a novel ailment. The roots of the current strain can in fact be traced back to the very early days of Europe’s border control regime in the early 1990s. Then, as today, European capitals (Paris in primis) maintained an ambivalent stance vis a vis Schengen, on one hand supporting the project’s objective , and, on the other, dragging their feet  in the implementation stage.In this period, for example, the French government (then as today of right wing leanings), citing other members’ laxity, periodically relied on the regime’s ‘special circumstances’ clause to maintain or reinstate internal border controls. In these early cases of Schengenitis, however, the regime not only managed to withstand existing tensions, but its body and ‘spirit’ came out reinvigorated. In the second part of the 1990s, Schengen expanded to new members and was officially incorporated in the European Union’s institutional framework. Thanks to the regime’s institutionalization and expansion, Schengen today is even hailed as one of the most visible achievements of European integration and a key pillar of European Union’s political architecture.

Will history repeat itself? Will Schengen not just survive, but emerge once again unscathed from the ailments that periodically affect it? Some contextual factors seem to cast doubts over this optimistic vision for the regime’s future. The latest strain of Schengenitis has in fact emerged in a political climate that is rather gloomy. The inward looking attitude of a growing swath of the electorate across Europe and the parallel rise of xenophobic political movements, together with the fear of further enlargement of the regime and, more generally, a steady decline in support for further European integration, have seriously curbed the enthusiasm for the border free Europe project.

Despite the current sceptical political climate in Europe, there are some signs that the resilience that Schengen demonstrated in the past is still present today. Throughout the recent epidemics, European policy-makers, side by side complaints, criticisms and reciprocal accusations over the handling of North African migrants, have repeatedly emphasized the achievements, both practical and political, that Schengen has accomplished over the years, and its fundamental importance for the European integration project. Crucially, they have also vowed their allegiance to the regime and their commitment to support it in the future. Does this state of affairs mean that Schengen “will never die”, as Charles Elsen, former Director General at the European Council’s General Secretariat, predicted on the eve of the regime`s incorporation in the EU in the late 1990? Probably not. After all, all policy projects, like the individuals who create them, are bound to get old and eventually pass away. Schengen is no exception to this rule. Its periodical ailments and the healing periods they require are testament to its mortality. As it has been the case in the past, however, Schengenitis seem to be still treatable. Europe’s border control regime is therefore likely to live on for some more time to come, pace Sarkozi.

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Sarah Wolff

Research, Teaching and Policy Impact

Politics, Knowledge & Migration

Christina Boswell's Blog

Space Calendar project

“A clock that removes the right time, restores true time”. John Hejduk

LA FRONTERA: Artists along the US Mexican Border

Photographer Stefan Falke visited 180 artists along the US Mexico border to document the vibrant cultural activities along the 2000 miles long divide on both sides. All photos: © Stefan Falke

Without Borders?

Some critical reflections on European and global border conditions.

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