1.Schengen and the European Migration Crisis
Sottotitolo:Free internal travel requires strong external controls, while difference between refugees, protected by UN regulation on reaching their first safe haven, and economic migrants is fundamental.
The Schengen Area. The Agreement signed on 14 June 1985 on a boat on the Moselle near the small town of Schengen (Luxembourg), by five of the ten states that formed the European Community at that time, effectively abolished passport controls and any other border control among the signatories thus treating the area as a single country. The Agreement was supplemented by the Schengen Convention of 1990, establishing a common visa policy.
Net gains. The creation of the Schengen Area was - in principle – an excellent decision. The effective elimination of internal borders within the Area generated considerable savings in terms of travel time and convenience for passengers, expenditure on custom officials and equipment, higher speed and lower cost of commodity transport. A recent study by Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation estimates the cost of the possible breakdown of the Schengen area at between €470bn and €1.4 trillion over the next decade, (roughly 10% of the 28-members EU bloc GDP) due to an increase in import prices of between 1% and 3%. Germany would lose between €77bn and €235bn and France between €85.5bn and €244bn under the two scenarios.
In subsequent years the acceleration continued. In 2015 migrants entering Europe mostly from the Middle East and Africa turned into a veritable flood – the largest flows to take place since 1945 – that put the Schengen arrangements to a most severe test: EU states received 1.3 million asylum applications, especially from Syria. On 24 August 2015 Angela Merkel announced that all Syrian asylum-seekers were welcome to remain in Germany regardless of which EU country they had first entered. She adopted this “open door” policy unilaterally, without EU agreement, after consultation solely with the Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann; subsequently there were signs of intended policy reversal but tightening up was only slight (for instance preventing relatives joining migrants for at least a year) thus provoking an intensification of the inflow because of the migrants’ expectation of harder times; a recent poll found that 81% of the German population thought that the government had lost control over migration policy.
In May 2015 Branko Milanovic wrote a post in Social Europe, “Five reasons why migration into Europe is a problem with no solution”: 1) deep-seated and permanent factors such as political chaos in the Middle East and extraordinarily huge and increasing income gaps between Europe and Africa, with sub-Saharan population poised to increase almost by six times by 2100; 2) lack of an immigration tradition in Europe; 3) European political blunders due to a combination of incompetence and arrogance, such as overthrowing Gaddafi, the ultimatum to the previous Ukrainian government, and the handling of the Greek crisis; 4) the increasing influence of right-wing, populist anti-immigration parties in several European countries, even when they are not in government; 5) the total lack of strategies, policies and ideas at the European level, while the crisis calls for a multilateral solution involving co-ordination among member-states and with African countries and the European recognition that an influx from Africa is dictated by demographic and economic gaps: “Unfortunately, neither of these two conditions is close to being satisfied. So the problem, among permanent political improvisation, will continue to worsen” – he wrote prophetically. (In a post in the same series last January Branko stressed the economicpositives and negatives of migrations; see also his forthcoming book Global Inequality - A New Approach for the Age of Globalization, Belknap Press).
The Schengen Area rules include provisions for temporary border controls to be re-established in case of urgency, for up to 2 and 6 months, and for outright suspension for up to 2 years in the case of threats to public order. Since the 2015 summer temporary measures have been already implemented unilaterally by several countries. Hungary closed its borders with Serbia, Romania and Croatia, allowing its army to use rubber bullets, tear gas and barbed wire against migrants. In November Slovenia started building its own fence along the Croatian border; its Parliament recently approved the deployment of the country’s army to manage the migrants’ flow at its borders. An increasing numbers of migrants have been cutting through these barriers to enter the EU.
The closing of Schengen internal borders has accelerated since the beginning of 2016. In Denmark the government extended passport checks on the German border for the third time, with Sweden keeping similar checks for travellers arriving from Denmark. France is in the process of closing down the so-called “Jungle” migrant camp at Calais, whose estimated 5,500 residents were waiting to smuggle themselves to the UK on ferries, or through the Chunnel in trucks, trains or even on foot; the closure was violently resisted. Belgium reintroduced border controls on its frontier with France, hiring 290 extra-police officers to try and stop the Calais migrants from moving to its coastline. Austria has built a wall at its frontier with Slovenia; in under two months in 2016 it received 101,000 migrants compared with 4,000 in the same period last year, and has introduced a cap of 80 asylum applications per day.
Last November Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister, declared that Europeans had “only a few months”to save the Schengen system. On 21 February Thomas de Maizière, Germany's Interior Minister, stated that EU member states must agree a common approach to tackle migrations “within two weeks” if they wanted to avoid the system’s complete collapse. On 4 March the European Commission unveiled a plan, Back to Schengen, “to lift all remaining border controls by December 2016, so as to return to a normally functioning Schengen Area before the end of the year”. The options considered involve sharing out asylum seekers across the EU on a quota basis regardless of where they first arrived, either as a general procedure or only if a country is overwhelmed by a sudden influx. The IX Report on European Security reveals that a poll conducted in early 2016 among 1000 respondents each in Italy, Spain, France and Germany gives a majority of over 75% in favour of the reintroduction of border controls either unconditionally (56% in Italy) or in special circumstances (Repubblica, 7 March).
The Schengen crisis should not take anybody by surprise. The writing has been on the wall for a long time. The introduction of the Euro as a common currency had equally been an excellent idea, which however failed because it was premature before political, fiscal and banking integration; incomplete due to the ECB lacking powers as Lender of Last Resort to the EU and the member states; and because the Eurozone was subject to increasing divergence in the member states’ fundamentals. The Euro crisis was also made worse by austerity policies perversely enforced by the German-led European authorities.
Three considerations are in order:
1.Free internal travel requires strong external controls. Just like a Free Trade Area requires a common external tariff barrier, free internal travel obviously requires a common external border, with a common Coast Guard, border guards and if necessary a common Army, all provided and paid for centrally. The Schengen external borders, on the contrary, are delegated to national, fragmented, uneven and inadequate controls (in spite of the rudimentary Frontex agency and the recent intervention of NATO ships patrolling the Aegean Sea). Moreover existing controls do not include brutal repression, and this humanitarian restraint is more labour-intensive. Shooting trespassers on sight, as East German guards protecting GDR borders used to do with attempted exits, is not yet reached but arrest and imprisonment in Hungary (and the extra-Schengen UK) have been, as well as the use of tear gas and rubber bullets elsewhere.
Schengen external borders are a sieve that allows through indiscriminately legitimate refugees, escaping directly from persecution and war, and economic migrants, i.e. those refugees who had already reached a safe country, or other migrants who are simply seeking to improve their standard of living. The difference between refugees and economic migrants (both classed here as migrants) is elusive, as even refugees will tend to move towards countries with higher employment opportunities and/or income, thus abandoning their “first safe country” status.
Whether or not immigration brings net benefits to the host country is a controversial matter. On balance it probably does in the long term, but the case of very fast, concentrated mass migration should be considered in its own terms. The possibility cannot be neglected of a mixed distributional impact on workers and firms through greater competition in labour markets, both in the short and long term; of significant additional investment cost in new infrastructures, and - at least in the short term - welfare costs, making immigration a public investment competing with alternative forms of public expenditure. Immigration brings possible cultural enrichment but also possible cultural impoverishment, as well as potential cultural, political, ethnic and religious conflict – even leaving aside the possibility, not entirely implausible, of migration being a vehicle of health contagion and terrorist infiltration. These drawbacks have to be set against the benefit of rejuvenation of an ageing host population, which is associated with mass immigration.
Whatever the true net costs and benefits of immigration, the increasing electoral success of right-wing, populist, anti-immigration parties in most of the developed world signals unambiguously the widespread perception – right or wrong – that the current level and/or rate of immigration are excessive: from Matteo Salvini’s Lega to Nigel Farage’s UKIP, from Jimmie Åkesson’s Swedish Democrats to Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom, from the German Alternative für Deutschland to Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz or Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s PiS, Heinz-Christian Strache’s FPO, Milos Freeman’s Civil Rights Party, Marine Le Pen’s Front National, the Finnish and Norwegian anti-immigration parties, as well as shifts in more standard political parties (see the anti-immigration stance of Boris Johnson, mayor of London and David Cameron’s probable successor). In the US the latest polls show that immigration is fourth or lower on public concerns: the anti-immigration vote is overwhelmed by the economy, anti-Elite feelings and security issues, although Donald Trump’s large-scale wall-building and deportation plans may have something to do with his unexpectedly strong bid for the US Presidency.
When existing external borders are not in a position to identify and register all migrants, to distinguish between refugees reaching their first safe haven (which the 1990 Dublin Convention rules, stricter than the UN rules, regard as the first EU country) and all other migrants, it is unavoidable that each Schengen member state will need to reintroduce effective border controls, including visas and passport checks.
The identification of immigrants has been likened to the marking of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps, but the comparison is improper, even if identification required the use of force. Identification is essential to verify both the right to residence and entitlement to benefits.
The almost 4,000 migrants that drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, the high monetary cost (steeply rising with the spreading of border controls and obstacles) and exposure to violence and other personal risks of migration make the desperate predicament of economic migrants – running away from famine, destitution, drought, environmental and cultural disasters – very close to that of refugees running away from persecution and war. But the difference is still there: refugees have a sacrosanct right to asylum sanctioned by the United Nations, while all others by migrating place themselves at the mercy of their countries of arrival: economic migrants can be refused entry or be repatriated.
Both rejection and forced repatriation are unpleasant and brutal, but an indiscriminate open doors policy would amount to the pretense that the world in which we live, dominated by private property and territory-based democracy, is instead a non-existing utopia of global democracy and universal communism, though limited to the collectivization of social capital. No wonder such a contradictory utopia was never proposed or theorized by anyone. In the world as we know it international solidarity is necessarily a discretionary concession by those who can afford generosity, which can only be exercised collectively if backed by a majority; it is not an automatic right of those who need international solidarity.
Moreover a policy of indiscriminate open doors to all immigrants, while reducing international inequality across countries will increase internal inequality within countries because of the greater competition in the labour market in the host countries and the impoverishment of the emitting countries, thus leading to a possible and perhaps probable greater global inequality. (The case for repatriation is developed conclusively by Alberto Chilosi, “On the economics and politics of unrestricted immigration”, The Political Quarterly, 73-4, pp. 431–435, October 2002).
All immigrants, whether or not they can be classed as refugees, should be protected from the risks of their journey, in spite of such risks being to some extent the result of their own actions, just as cancer patients are entitled to treatment even if they are smokers (though some may disagree). Preferably the cost of protecting them should be a charge on all Schengen countries, as it is now for the EU Frontex operations, but even if such cost was born by a single country’s taxpayers as in the case of Italy’s Mare Nostrum scheme it would still be desirable.
The trouble is that repatriation is costly, and should be financed by the Schengen countries as it is part of the cost of abolishing internal borders; it requires the agreement of the country of origin or of the first safe country reached, which may be unknown or might no longer exist or might not honour such an agreement (e.g. Pakistan). Moreover it is doubtful whether “pushbacks”, whereby asylum seekers are returned to a country without their application having had a fair hearing, are consistent with both the Geneva Conventions and the EU asylum code. But the fact that repatriation will not always be possible is no reason for not attempting it at least in some cases, if nothing else pour encourager les autres. Refugees are in a different position because with the settlement of conflict in their own countries they should return home.
On 27 January Sweden – that last year received 163,000 asylum applications, the highest number per capita in Europe – announced a plan to repatriate 80,000 migrants (subsequently reduced to 60,000 then left undetermined)“over many years”, using aircraft chartered for the purpose, but the plan is still on paper. In the same week 308 economic migrants were sent back by bus from Greece to Turkey; however Turkey will not accept more unless Europe takes more Syrians off their hands – a vicious circle. Rejection looks like a more viable option: in his current visit of the Western Balkans ahead of the EU-Turkey summit Donald Tusk, on 2 March in Zagreb, said that “Member states should refuse entry to third-country nationals who do not meet the necessary conditions or who, although they were able to do so earlier, did not apply for asylum.” (European Council communique’ 3 March). However, the concentration of rejected economic migrants in border camps is bound to create other problems, while the prospect of future rejections can only speed up current migration flows.
2.Free internal travel requires the convergence of living standards within the area (including welfare provisions). Not unnaturally foot-lose migrants who do not have stronger ties (of language, religion, relatives, friends) to a particular country will tend to choose their ultimate destination on the basis of their perception of maximum improvement in their living standard resulting from migration. Employment prospects are likely to be paramount, indeed traditional migration theory (exemplified by the Harris-Todaro model, AER 1970, 60-1) relates the incentive to migrate to wage differences between the home and destination countries weighed by their respective probability of employment (taken as 1 minus the unemployment rate), to which of course one should add the net improvement in welfare benefits.
The UK is a case in point. Relatively generous benefits granted to immigrants from other EU countries, including social housing, national health entitlements and payments to relatives resident abroad, have led to Cameron attempting to negotiate “emergency brakes” with the EU, subjecting benefits to time restrictions (excluding immigrants for the first four years residence), or to resident family members (possibly restricting family re-joining). Cameron succeeded in negotiating with the EU these kinds of restrictions only for future and not for existing immigrants, which therefore strengthened the conservative government resolve to reduce welfare benefits all round. Meanwhile non-European immigrants to the UK are subjected to a minimum income to be reached within the first 5 years of residence (which has just been raised from £21,000 to £35,000 from next April), under penalty of expulsion after one additional year. New rules will make UK landlords responsible for checking the documents of their tenants, making it harder to find accommodation not only for unauthorized immigrants but also for the 60% UK citizens who do not possess a passport.
3.Any attempt at a fair re-distribution of immigrants among countries requires the re-establishment of national borders. Last July EU Interior Ministers imposed a plan to relocate 40,000 migrants into Greece and Italy across the EU; an additional 120,000 relocations were added in September raising the total to 160,000 (of which 54,000 were postponed to the following year), outvoting Romania, Hungary, the Czech and Slovak republics strongly opposed to the scheme (FT, 25 September 2015). Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, announced a referendum on whether the country should be forced to resettle refugees, on the ground that “Introducing resettlement quotas for migrants without the support of the people is an abuse of power”; he is unlikely to lose that referendum.
On 29 February Angela Merkel said it loud and clear: “Migrants may not pick and choose where they are to be settled” (Daily Telegraph, 1 March). She referred to their choice of country, but Germany is indeed unusual in imposing constraints on where migrants can live, both in order to prevent the formation of ghettos in big cities and to direct immigrant flows to the underpopulated regions of the former GDR where there is plentiful social housing and a shortage of young workers. Such a policy had been introduced in the 1990s at the time of a large influx of ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union and Romania. Immigrants have their welfare benefits cut if they move away from their assigned locations. In the UK immigrants who claim social housing and some other benefits are offered it only in the northern rust belt towns.
This kind of restrictions seem necessary to the smoother absorption of immigrants, but paradoxically the European Court of Justice, ruling on a complaint by two Syrians about their German residence requirements, at the end of February 2016 decided that EU rules “preclude” them even if they are aimed at “achieving an appropriate distribution of the burden connected with the benefits”, though it also said that people granted subsidiary protection could be subject to a residence condition “for the purpose of promoting their integration”. Nevertheless German ministers are preparing a law which would expand the existing residence restrictions to refugees whose asylum requests have been approved, in spite of objections from refugee associations (FT, 1 March).
Disintegration? At present the EU is being subjected to four centrifugal forces (see Munchau, FT 28 February. and Javier Lopez, “Europe in Multiple Organ Failure”): a North-South divide over border controls; another North-South divide about austerity and the Euro; an East-West divide over migrant re-location; and the uncertain implications of Brexit with possible contagion effects on other member states.
It is difficult to disagree with Oxford political scientist Jan Zielonka (Is the EU doomed? Global Futures, Polity Press, London, 2014) when he argues that “Sadly… at present the EU does not facilitate integration, but impedes it”… “The European Union was widely regarded as the most successful modern integration project, but it has turned into an embarrassment”… “No wonder so many citizens lost trust in the EU, and that the process of disintegration is gathering pace.” But Zielonka’s expectation that “A weakening of the EU and its member states will strengthen other political actors such as cities, regions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)” is utterly unconvincing: the solution or even the alleviation of both the Euro crisis and the migration crisis cannot rely on a network of de-centralised power centres but will require a deep degree of centralised initiative and commitment to greater integration. See “A Plan for Europe’s Refugees”, The Economist 6 February:
“Creating a well-regulated system requires three steps. The first is to curb the “push factors” that encourage people to risk the crossing, by beefing up aid to refugees, particularly to the victims of the civil wars in Syria and Iraq, including the huge number who have fled to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The second is to review asylum claims while refugees are still in centres in the Middle East or in the “hotspots” (mainly in Greece and Italy), where they go when they first arrive in the EU. The third element is to insist that asylum-seekers stay put until their applications are processed, rather than jumping on a train to Germany.” Unfortunately, “All these steps are fraught with difficulty.”
Prospects might become clearer soon, after the next EU-Turkey summit (7-8 March), the German regional elections (13 March) regarded as a test of Merkel’s immigration policies, and the EU Summit on migration (18-19 March).
There seems to be, however, a constitutional conflict between European and international rules about treaties, revealed by the recent agreement reached by the UK and all the other member states about the special terms negotiated by Cameron for the UK. That Agreement is said to have been deposited within the UN and is therefore subject to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, which operates on rules different from those of the European Court of Justice competent to enforce the European Treaties. Downing Street has claimed that the EU-UK agreement is legally binding and enforceable, but it is not clear whether any country who did not like it might seek to challenge it in the International Court of Justice. A constitutional crisis of this kind is the last thing that Europe needs today.