Challenges to Europe’s borders - May 2016

Two days after the Paris attacks, Jean-Claude Juncker appealed to the European Parliament to “safeguard the spirit behind the Schengen agreement . . . one of the main pillars of the construction of Europe. If the spirit of Schengen leaves our lands and our hearts, we will lose more than Schengen. A single currency makes no sense if Schengen falls.” On 9 May 2016, Europe Day, he declared that Austrian plans to erect a 370-metre-long security fence at the Brenner Pass to keep out immigrants arriving through Italy would be a “political disaster”. 2,500 trucks and 1,500 cars take the Brenner route every day, making it, like the Rhône valley, one of the single market’s major arteries. Seven Member States have taken similar unilateral decisions, proof of the crisis affecting the European border regime.

Schengen, this symbol of the success of the European project – the embodiment of the fourth fundamental freedom, the free movement of people – is riding low in public opinion: 72% of the French, 66% of Germans and 60% of Italians are in favour of a temporary suspension of Schengen, including voters who are generally supportive of the European idea[1]. The only solution is to establish effective external borders supervised by a joint border force of the relevant Member State and the European Commission. In 2015 over 233 million non-EU citizens and 400 million EU citizens legally crossed the EU’s external borders. Frontex registered 1.8 million illegal entrants the same year.

This external dimension of Europe has too often been overlooked. The outline of Schengen territory has been altered eight times since the Schengen agreement was implemented. Why invest in structures to police the borders of a signed-up Member to the agreement, when the EU’s continuing enlargement policy means that the neighbouring country will in time join the same bloc?

It is therefore high time that the borders of the EU were consolidated on the basis of two sovereign criteria: overall strategy towards Russia, and the control and security of immigration flows from Turkey and Africa’s northern shores[2]. There is no sense in reinitiating accession negotiations with Turkish authorities whose neo-Ottoman ambitions diverge ever further from the values espoused by Kemal.

If nothing is done, a non-Schengen situation will arise, and the costs will be great. The single market represents €2,800 billion in trade weighing 1,700 million tonnes. Recent studies[3] have provided a range of estimates for such developments: a €11-47 billion reduction in trade, a loss of €5-6 billion for cross-border workers (1.7 million per day), and equivalent losses for the tourism industry and in extra police and customs expenditure at 1,700 border points along the 16,400 kilometres of intra-Schengen borders. The Jacques Delors Institute Berlin suggests that the resulting damage could reach €63 billion per year, a sum that might affect the stability of the eurozone and undermine the efficiency of the single market.

The end of the open internal border policy would send out a message of a weakened Europe, incapable of dealing with its challenges. By way of comparison, the cost of reinforcing controls along the US-Canadian border post 11 September 2011 to combine ease of passage with security was budgeted at €880 million to €1.46 billion for the two countries (for a 8,900 km-long border). A system of comparable effectiveness in Europe would require an extra €1.6 to 2.7 billion in investment. Implementing effective controls along the EU’s external frontiers would cost two hundred times less than the economic fallout of “non-Schengen”. These figures alone provide some idea of the benefits of the European project, at a time when politicians are singularly failing to give a convincing defence of its symbolic dimension.

Let us not stand idly by as the project that was launched with such success in May 1950 in Paris and March 1957 in Rome is destroyed.


Michel Foucher
Former French Ambassador
Senior Advisor


Article paru dans Option Finance n°1367, le 23 mai 2016


[1] “Six mois après: les Européens face à la crise des migrants”, Jérôme Fouquet, Fondation Jean Jaurès, note 304 ; 5 April 2016.

[2] Michel Foucher, “Le retour des frontières”, CNRS Éditions, May 2016.

[3] “The Economic Costs of Non-Schengen”, Jacques Delors Institute Berlin and Bertelsmann Stiftung, Policy Paper 162, 20 April 2016; European Commission Communication, COM (2016) 120 final, 4 March 2016.