Europe’s borders in 2015: a visual review

Undoubtedly this has been an annus horribilis for European borders. Here are some visual highlights of the last 12 months…

 

February 2015

The Other Exodus: Kosovars heading North

The other exodus - Kosovar heading north - February Getty

April 2015

Sunk: the deadliest drowning in the Mediterranean (so far)

Sinking off Malata -April Reuters

April 2015

Calais’ waves: migrants try to enter the Eurotunnel

Eurotunnel April

April 2015

All along the watchtower: Poland proposes border posts around Kalingrad 

Poalnd-Kalingrad watchtower proposal April- Reuters

April 2015

Born to be wild: Pro-Putin bikers stopped at Polish border

Pro puting bikers

June 2015

Terra nullius: migrants stranded at Italy-France border

migrants stranded -italy france border June Reuters

August 2015

Greek tragedies: migrants landing in Lesbos

To Lesbos  oct 2 2015 - Reuters

September 2015

Aylan

Aylan september 2

September 2015

No (Of)fence: migrants making their way trough Serbia-Hungary border

Hungary border fence september

September 2015

Tripping: foul play at the Hungarian border

Trippincamerwona sept Getti image

September 2015

The long march: migrants heading to Austria

HUngarain -Austrian border

 

September 2015

Guardian Angel(a): Germany opens the doors to migrants

 

Merl

November 2015

Suspended! Schengen area under pressure after Paris attacks

French italian border after Paris Nov

 

December 2015
Øresund blues: Sweden closes its border with Denmark

Sweden closes Oresund bridge with Denmark Dec- Getty

 

 

European borders in 2016?

Schengen future

The elephant in Europe’s living room: or how (not to) tackle the current migration crisis

EU

It has become a well-established European ritual. What to do when facing a major crisis? Call a special summit! Then talk, and talk again, well into the night. Disagree on pretty much everything, until you get a ‘breakthrough’ — i.e., a list of generic commitments dressed up in the language of the mythical “European common spirit”. Wait a few months, and, if the plan does not work — because it surely won’t work — call another summit!

The latest instalment of this ongoing European political saga is centered on the issue of migration.  Hot topic of late, and for good (or, I should say, bad) reasons. Europe has become the backdrop for harrowing, and often tragic, stories of thousands of individuals who are fleeing conflict and misery and trying to reach the Old Continent. Some of these stories, such as that of Alan Kurdi, the Europe-bound three old Syrian who drowned just before reaching the Turkish coast, are so shocking as to shake, at least temporarily, the conscience of an otherwise anesthetized European public. At the same time, a collective anti-immigrant hysteria has spread throughout the Old Continent like wildfire, pushing migration at the top of the political agenda. What to do in these circumstances? European leaders have an answer. Yes, you guessed it: a special summit.

I am not holding my breath that something revolutionary will come out of the latest gathering of European grandees. Most likely, the summit will result in a declaration acknowledging the plight of European-bound migrants and a call for action. My sense is that, in practice, the planned response will be filled with a new batch of security-oriented measures aimed at strengthening the continent’s external borders and at expanding controls on movement within Europe. And the plight of would be migrants, who will still do whatever it takes to look for a better future? Well, we’ll figure that out later. Remember Lampedusa? The infamous October 2013 migrant shipwreck led to alarmed calls for action similar the ones we hear today.  Cecilia Malmström, then European Commissioner for Home Affairs, said: “Let’s make sure that what happened in Lampedusa will be a wakeup call to increase solidarity and mutual support and to prevent similar tragedies in the future”. We all know how things turned out…

It is, of course, easy to target elected officials. They are the ones who must make the difficult decisions, and feel the wrath of an angry and disillusioned electorate. And the internally-focused policy responses European leaders will likely propose to address the current crisis – a greater burden sharing of refugees among European countries and a more flexible approach to the refugee determination process are indeed necessary. They are, however, also a patchwork of short term solutions that will do little to prevent other crises from popping up again in the near future.

The alternative? I have one. Go to the source of the problem! In other words, try to make sure migrants either do not leave their country of origin, or, if they do leave, they do so in a regulated manner. Easier said than done, you might say. You can add naïve. And haven’t Europeans already tried this route before? These are valid points. Solving the complex economic, social and political problems that encourage emigration in faraway places, not to mention ending protracted conflicts such as the one in Syria, is not something Europeans (or anybody else for that matter) can — and should — do by themselves, nor something that can happen in the short term.

Talks about creating a more ‘progressive’ migration policy that includes not only sticks but also carrots —  fostering economic development, opening up of legal migration channels — have been going since the late 1990s, when Europe was facing another major refugee crisis originating from the conflict in the Balkans. These themes, for instance, are a central component of the EU’s Global Approach to Migration and Mobility, since the mid-2000s the main policy framework of EU external migration and asylum policy. The problem is, European policy-makers have not seriously tried to put into practice the progressive vision that this approach entails. When it comes to its implementation, the emphasis has systematically turned to the negative aspects of the plan — how to prevent migrants from arriving –, not the more positive ones — how to create incentives to either stay or move through official channels. This is apparent if we look at European attempts to ‘externalize’ migration management to the continent’s neighbors or further afield.  These ‘remote control’ policies include the ‘offshoring’ of border checks beyond Europe, the imposition of stricter visa requirements, the processing of asylum claims in neighboring countries, the interdictions of migrants on the high seas, and migrant detention in transit countries outside the region. The externalization of border management is not a new phenomenon.  Some of these practices (e.g. the imposition of visas) date back to the origins of immigration policy at the turn of the 20th century. Other initiatives (e.g. the interdictions on the high seas and migrant detention) were introduced in the post cold war era. Since the millennium, however, these practices, and the context in which they unfold, have experienced significant transformations. As a result, remote control policies have become more complex, widespread and prominent in migration strategies around the world than ever before. These practices, for example, are at the core of current migration policies in the United States and Australia.

For governments, externalizing migration policies represents a politically expedient way to circumvent domestic legal obligations that liberal democracies claim to uphold. As the adage goes, out of sight, out of mind… The upcoming European summit on migration will probably include a discussion on how to strengthen these ‘externalizing’ practices. This approach, however, is, to put it mildly, contentious. Besides the lack of accountability for governmental actions that occur beyond national borders, externalizing migration controls often have negative repercussions on migrants’ lives and their rights, as in the case for those kept in limbo in offshore detention centres. It is also questionable whether they are really effective. Yet, despite the mounting critiques and number of challenges governments are facing, these policies remain a popular approach to manage international migration in Europe.

Which leads me to the point about the elephant in Europe’s living room – namely, the root causes of migration. Certainly, some of the situations that lead to population movements (e.g. instability and conflict in the Middle East, authoritarianism and lawlessness in the Horn of Africa) are so intractable that even talking about ‘solutions’ seems out of the question at the present time. This state of affairs, however, should not be an excuse not to talk about what Europe can and should do to render less likely the re-occurrence of the current crisis, or at least mitigate its size and impact. The upcoming European summit should put the root causes of migration at the core of its plan of action. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Some of these ideas are already present in Europe’s existing policy frameworks. This is especially the case for plans targeting countries where migrants move primarily for economic reasons. Europe should be more actively foster local economic development, render its common market more accessible and offer more meaningful channels for legal migration. In the case of individuals fleeing conflict and political repression, Europe should offer greater economic support for transit countries, and expand its now limited commitment to resettle displaced people living in refugee camps. European leaders should also seek greater coordination and support to implement these policies not only within Europe, but also with other international partners, especially in North America.

Putting these ideas into practice requires not just time and money, but also a great dose of political will and courage, qualities that are currently in short supply around European capitals. Without them, however, I’m afraid the images of desperation and anger that we are witnessing today across Europe are likely to haunt us for a long time to come.

 

Much ado about nothing..new? 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…

Schengen blues: critical (musical) notes on Europe

Schengen bluesThere’s something about Schengen that makes it a favourite subject of creative types of all stripes.  What this ‘quid’ consists of may elude us non artistically inclined mortals. After all, what can be so exciting about an utterly dry catalogue of rules regulating travel in and about the Old Continent? Apparently, a lot. The reasons why Schengen has become a source of artistic inspiration, however, are not necessarily as benign as some European policy-makers (especially those who still hail this policy initiative as one of the finest achievements of European integration) would like us to believe. Indeed, Schengen is often the artistic target of trenchant criticism, especially because of its exclusionary practices vis a vis selected individuals (i.e. the unwanted non-Europeans). This critical streak permeates the entire spectrum of the performative art scene. Musicians play a big part in this anti-Schengen chorus. Europe’s free travel area seems to touch a (metaphorical) cord with this category of artists. After all, is there a better way to voice your opinion (and be heard from afar) than through your own voice, especially if screamed out of your lungs? The latest example of this increasingly popular musical genre (‘Schengen blues’?) that I have recently come across is from the Spanish crooner Raphael (by the way, why would the author of 60s’ hits such as “Cuando tú no estás”, “Mi gran noche”, “Tema de amor”, would pen a song – in French, alas! –  on a topic such as Europe’s border control regime is a question that definitely warrants further investigation…). The song, simply titled ‘Schengen’, poetically evokes the painful experience of the typical migrant living in the Old Continent. The result is a rather depressing portrayal of Europe…

(…)

Tellement de nuits sous la paupière
Tellement de forêts abattues
Même sous la mitraille et le fer
Moi je leur ai rien vendu
Et que même dans l’espace Shengen
Ils ont pas voulu de ma peau

Ce que j’ fais là moi
Je sais pas
Je voulais juste marcher tout droit
Ce que j’ fais là moi
Je sais pas
Je pense à toi depuis mille ans

(…)

(NB: full text and English translation are available here)

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)?

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.

How (popular) music reproduces the ‘Schengen myth’

Can music, and popular music in particular, contribute to the reinforcement of the myth of Schengen as emblem of ‘freedom, security and success’, as EU officials often claim when referring to Europe’s border control regime? I think it does, although this suggestion needs some clarification (and a certain leap of faith, I would add) [1].  Let me start with some general thoughts about the myth-music connection in general. Most people would agree that music has historically played a central role in the creation of myths, including political myths. Through the articulation of social values in specific musical repertoires, this performative art has in fact often functioned as means of transmission of a dominant ideology. The relation between music and myth is apparent not just in musical compositions (e.g. the mythical figures in Richard Wagner’s works), but also in the socio-cultural milieu in which music is created and performed. Music has been influenced by existing social standards and norms, and in turn it has influenced the society surrounding it. At the same time, music and society interact with and mediate one another within and across socio-cultural boundaries. This is not just the case for a society’s high culture, but also its popular expressions. This has always been the case, but contemporary music is one of the domains in which the blurring of distinction between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture has been more marked, especially in the West.

Not let’s turn to a concrete example involving Schegen. The subject that I consider here (a contemporary British band) carries with it an explicit reference to Europe’s border control regime. It is in fact called (you guessed it) ‘Schengen’. On their website, the band members explain the origins of their name by writing that they “stumbled across it in reference to the Schengen Treaty”[2]. Thus there is a direct link between the band and the ‘original’ Schengen. This ‘marriage’, however, seems rather casual. The band carries this particular name because its members “liked the sound of the word”: there is no apparent conscious attempt to link their music to the Schengen regime, or to make any particular political statement. The genre of music the band plays seems to support this claim. Reviewers have described the ‘Schengen sound’ as “lush, relaxed, gorgeously atmospheric electronic…” and “(s)eizing, atmospheric and unique” (all quotes are from the band’s website), characteristics that seem far removed from those we might experience when visiting Europe’s bustling and chaotic external frontiers. In what sense then is it possible to argue that the band helps to support the establishment of the myth of Schengen?

What follows might seem a bit far fetched. But let’s see if I can persuade you about this unlikely connection. The contribution of Schengen (the band) to the construction of the myth of Schengen (the border regime) can be better understood if we move away from the emphasis on music per se and its textual dimension, and shift to its performative dimension. This is the kind of move that a growing number of authors in Performative Studies (musicology being one of its sub-disciplines) have recently suggested. Traditionally, music and performance were often presented in music literature as separate. The new practice-oriented paradigm advocated in contemporary Performance Studies stresses the extent to which signification is constructed through the act of performance, between the performers themselves, and between the performers and the audience. Performative meaning is thus a process and cannot be reduced to product.

In the present example, when Schengen (the band) is playing (‘performing’), it is contributing to the reproduction of the Schengen myth. The same could be said of other rituals surrounding the band, such as selling music, touring, interacting with fans, etc. As with the hotel in Beijing, these activities represent a microcosm of Europe’s border regime. Through them, the band is indirectly ‘promoting’ the Schengen regime, helping cement its standing in popular culture. Although the band’s sound does not seem to echo the Schengen regime’s script, arguably the band embodies a music genre that indeed reflects a borderless Europe, a cosmopolitan blending of (European) sounds. After all, the band can freely (that is, without visas) tour across Europe, and the fans (if holding an EU passport) can freely follow them. This would not happen in the same way if the band and its fans were not from the EU.

The political implications stemming from Schengen (the band)’s existence and the rituals surrounding it do not end here. It should be noted that the band’s members, as British citizens, are actually not part of Schengen (the free travel area). Thus, when playing outside continental Europe, ‘Schengen is outside Schengen’, as it were. Since Schengen is a British band, its members are allowed to travel to the Schengen area, because the (Schengen) visa for British citizens is waived. Still, the band’s members need a passport to enter Europe’s free travel area. In these circumstances, what we see is an instance of ‘Schengen entering Schengen’. As in a case of transubstantiation, the band is both Schengen and in Schengen. The most ironic aspect of this situation is that the band is British, and the British government (and the majority of the population in the UK) is notoriously skeptical (if not outrightly opposed) to the Schengen regime, especially the idea of abolishing national border controls, which the regime supports. Hence, although the choice of the band’s name was not strictly speaking ‘political’, its implications clearly are. Is this enough to convince you about the link between music and Schengen myth?


[1] NB: the following ruminations (shamelessly) borrow from an essay I have published some time ago on the subject of Schengen myth making. Here is the link to the full article .

[2] The band’s website can be found here.

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 (http://www.wat.tv/video/sarkozy-villepinte-accords-4xhqz_2exyh_.html). 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.


Schengen macht frei?

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Does Schengen really makes us a free? The performer Sarpinto does not think so, and he sings it out loud. Schengen does not always sound good, it seems…

Sarpinto – Schengen Macht Frei

http://soundcloud.com/sarpinto/sarpinto-schengen-macht-frei

The (haunted) apartments that lead to Schengen

Would you buy a house and never set foot in it (not even when you buy it)? For some Russians, a haunted dwelling in the Baltic Sea is worthy…a Schengen visa!

http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/article/1001461-apartments-lead-schengen

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