Schengen has some inconvenient consequences

While Europe’s ongoing economic crisis has revealed fundamental construction errors of the economic and monetary union, the migrant crisis reveals similar faults with Europe’s borders-be-gone Schengen scheme. If the Schengen accords are to survive – and by all means they should – we have to come to terms with the consequences of near-abolishing all internal borders, even if they are hard to accept for politicians and voters. Until now, these consequences were either unknown or ignored, a laziness we can no longer afford. Schengen is an integral, visible and practical part of the peaceful European unification and has to be preserved for practical, political and economic reasons. The pursuit of ever-closer union entails costs, some of them political, such are Schengen’s costs. But as the personal and economic benefits of the accords greatly outweigh the costs, European politics and voters must accept a certain sovereignty loss. Although Schengen is over twenty years old, its completion was not pressing until last year’s onset of the migrant crisis – or it was not seen as pressing. However, it is pressing now.

The basic insight is that abolishing borders between states, pushes the relevant borders for things like customs, trade, migrants, tourists, etc. to the participating states’ borders with other, non-participating states, here the Schengen External Border. From this follows immediately, that the single Schengen-countries can no longer control their own borders perfectly — which is exactly Schengen’s purpose: free roaming of goods and people between the states. This loss of sovereignty is due to the mutualisation of borders, which is curiously but not surprisingly not accompanied by the mutualisation of border controls, visas, asylum processes, customs, etc. This is the incompleteness mentioned above. To preserve the Schengen area, we must work towards mutualising the relevant authorities. Given the migrant crisis, we should probably prioritise border and coast guards as well as asylum processing and deportation.

There are a few curious effects from mutualising border policies. First, “Schengen”-European ports and airports with incoming and outgoing connections to non-Schengen countries are to be protected by European border police forces. The same is true for coast guards and regular border police. That is, Schengen countries must accept that supranational “Schengen”-Europenan police, have executive powers on their soil. These forces then answer to a common police office, but not the interior ministries of the respective countries. A second effect regards the distribution of asylum seekers. All Schengen-countries must accept a certain share of migrants, something like German Länder’s “Königsteiner Schlüssel”. To be blunt, all Schengen countries must accept not only the boons of abolishing borders but also the burdens.

Published by


I write about economics and politics. I take Ordnungspolitik seriously. While not blogging, I study monetary unions for my doctorate.