Bad omens, good omens: how does a restored Schengen look like?

Ouch! Schengen is in trouble…

On May 10, 2016, the museum created to celebrate the Schengen regime—evocatively located in the eponymous Luxemburg town by the river Moselle—was damaged by the collapse of one of its ceilings. Happening in the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis, it was an eerie omen of the regime’s current predicament. Indeed, an increasing number of cracks have begun to appear in what is still considered a central pillar of European integration. The breakdown of the Dublin Convention arrangement brought about by the sudden flow of Europe-bound migrants and the ensuing squabbles over the EU-led redistribution of asylum seekers across the continent, together with the reintroduction of internal controls, have rattled the regime’s foundations. A rising populist backlash against the idea of a “border-free Europe” has also brought into question the regime’s raison d’être and challenged its legitimacy.  In this context, it is not surprising that references to “the end of Schengen” have become ubiquitous.

Schengen restored…for now

In all this doom and gloom, finally some good news. After a year long hiatus, the Schengen museum has just reopened, and patrons are once again able to marvel at the regime’s accomplishments. Can the (real) Schengen follow the same path and return to its original shine? Well, maybe it can. After all, it is not the first time the Schengen regime has experienced periods of turmoil. In the early 1990s, for instance, the French government’s recalcitrance to fully lift internal controls at its borders stalled the regime’s  launch. While the possibility exists that the reinstatement of internal border controls within the Schengen area may become permanent, the European Commission and all member states have confirmed their commitment to lift these checks once the emergency period is over. Moreover, there are signs that the current crisis might actually lead to the regime’s further integration, as the recent upgrading of EU border agency Frontex suggests.

The strongest argument in support of the Schengen regime, however, is that even if it were to collapse, the need for European governments to address migratory pressures on Europe would not disappear. Unilateral actions such as the permanent reinstatement of national border controls might replicate the phenomenon of The Jungle, the notorious makeshift camp erected—and disbanded in October 2016—in the Northern French city of Calais. A Europe-wide “Jungle effect” would be politically untenable. It is therefore difficult to foresee a solution that does not involve at least a modicum of cooperation among European governments and some level of coordination from EU institutions. In other words, the most likely scenario in the case of the regime’s collapse is a Schengen redux. Such an arrangement would resemble the current one, but with its priorities reversed. The strengthening of external borders, hitherto considered a compensatory measure to balance the lifting of internal ones, would become the primary objective. A border-free Europe would remain a desirable outcome worth pursuing, but not if this meant compromising security. This shift of priorities is already apparent in the current post-crisis context; yet it is, at least on paper, only temporary and ad hoc. In the Schengen redux scenario outlined here, it would be become official and permanent.  This new arrangement would also be less institutionalised, with more emphasis on enhanced cooperation. One of this scenario’s downsides is that, since the lifting of internal borders is dependent on the strengthening of external ones, Schengen would compromise its primary source of legitimacy, namely its close connection with the European integration project. By diluting this historical tie, the political will to keep Schengen alive, even in the form of “Schengen-light,” would be seriously reduced.

European policymakers would certainly welcome a Schengen’s ‘restoration’ along the lines of the real-life entity the museum celebrates. They would also be pleased if the “renovations” they are currently considering work out well, and if they do not turn out to be mere temporary patches. If the latter turns out to be the case, another serious incident affecting the Schengen regime might offer them no choice but to demolish its entire structure[i].

***

 

[i] This post is a (revised and updated) excerpt from a chapter on EU border management that I wrote for  Routledge’s Handbook of Justice and Home Affairs Research (edited by Ariadna Ripoll Servent and Florian Trauner)

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Launching Schengen Border Art

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After a long gestation,  Schengen Border Art has seen the light!

As anticipated in some of my previous posts, the purpose of this online project is to virtually map contemporary artistic and other creative expressions whose main subject is Europe’s frontiers, be it the ‘real’ boundary demarcations in the political, social, economic realms or their imagined projections, and in the people who cross, build or challenge them on a daily basis. These artistic performances can take different forms: photographs, paintings, videos, sculptures, novels, poems, land art, simulations, installations, theatrical and other types of ‘live’ performances. The number of these artistic expressions has mushroomed in recent years as a result of the growing interest in (and controversy over) European borders and especially those comprising the so-called ‘Schengen area’.  In the site you will find a selection of this body of work, regularly updated, with information about the author and her/her creative piece(s), and an interactive map to locate them within Europe or beyond.. Check it out (schengenborderart.com), and help expanding it by suggesting new entries!

Stefano Bosis - migrants

Schengen 200/51 (Migrants) – Stefano Bosis – Drawing

 

Out now: Externalizing Migration Management in Europe and North America

A bit of self promotion here: Schengenizer has just published an edited volume on borders (what else?).  It’s about Europe of course, but North America as well (the two regions share a lot in terms of border policies). It focuses on a topic that I have often covered in this blog, namely the practice of ‘externalizing’ migration management  beyond a country’s borders. Surely to become a bedside reading fave… More details below.

Zaiotti externalizing book

EXTERNALIZING MIGRATION MANAGEMENT:EUROPE, NORTH AMERICA AND THE SPREAD OF ‘REMOTE CONTROL’ PRACTICES

(Routledge, 2016)

The extension of border controls beyond a country’s territory to regulate the flows of migrants before they arrive has become a popular and highly controversial policy practice. Today, remote control policies are more visible, complex and widespread than ever before, raising various ethical, political and legal issues for the governments promoting them.

The book examines the externalization of migration control from an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective, focusing on ‘remote control’ initiatives in Europe and North America, with contributions from the fields of politics, sociology, law, geography, anthropology, and history. This book uses empirically rich analyses and compelling theoretical insights to trace the evolution of ‘remote control’ initiatives and assesses their impact and policy implications. It also explores competing theoretical models that might explain their emergence and diffusion. Individual chapters tackle some of the most puzzling questions underlying remote control policies, such as the reasons why governments adopt these policies and what might be their impact on migrants and other actors involved.

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.

 

Mapping Schengen Art – Part VII

Here is the seventh instalment of Schengen border art, an ongoing project in which I map the multifarious ways in which the Old Continent’ (real and imaginary) frontiers have been represented/performed/subverted.

 

Freedom Bus Project – Crossborder – International Network of History and Art (2015)

 

http://www.cross-border-network.eu/freedombus-home.php

 

Art Bridges Europe – AA.VV. (Itinerant multimedia project 2015)

 

https://artbridgeseurope.wordpress.com/

 

Residenzpflicht – The invisible borders – Philipp Kuebart (2012-14, exhibition)

berlin_DSE6182_fadenmodell

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.invisibleborders.de/main_en.html

 

The Mediterranean Tunnel  – MTO (street art, 2015)

Med tunnel

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.streetartnews.net/2015/07/the-mediterranean-tunnel-by-mto-in.html

 

Immigration –  Daniel Garcia (2015; mixed media)

Daniel-Garcia-Art-Immigration-Africa-Europe-Boats-Migration-Mediterranean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.danielgarciaart.com/immigrats/

 

Surprising Europe – African migration experiences (multimedia project ; 2013)

http://www.surprisingeurope.com/

 

Breaching Borders: Art, Migrants and the Metaphor of WasteSteyn and Stamselberg (book; 2014)
Breaching borders

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.ibtauris.com/Books/Society%20%20social%20sciences/Society%20%20culture%20general/Cultural%20studies/Crosscultural%20Identities%20Art%20Migrants%20and%20the%20Metaphor%20of%20Waste.aspx?menuitem=%7B4BBEF2AD-7935-412A-ADEC-60A9409023F6%7D

 

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.

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