Refugee crisis Reinstate Internal E.U. Borders

Faced with a massive inflow of refugees, the EU should suspend freedom of movement between its member states and reinstate border controls, writes Manfred Lahnstein, former German economics and finance minister.
Europe is divided over whether or not to put up internal borders.

There is no doubt that the Schengen Agreement, which allows freedom of movement and goods in 26 European countries, is an important and valuable piece of European policy.

But it is neither the foundation nor a cornerstone of the European Union.

Member states have always had the option of suspending the agreement for a limited period of time due to "threats to public order." Most Europeans have always been required to be able to identify themselves at any time by means of a passport or alternative form of identification. For security reasons air travelers, in particular, have long been accustomed to identity checks, even within the Schengen Area. However, Schengen has almost nothing to do with the free exchange of goods and services.

The influx of refugees poses a threat to the Schengen Area because adequate control of its external borders is not being guaranteed. The cooperation among police agencies defined in the agreement does not exist where it should exist.

This is as regrettable as it is alarming. But does it justify doom and gloom scenarios or the strong words of some politicians?

German President Joachim Gauck called the refugee crisis the most severe test in the history of European Union. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said succinctly: "Without Schengen, the euro makes no sense." Until now I would only have believed the German right-wing populist party AfD capable of making such an untenable assumption. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, even hinted that the European Union itself could be at risk for destruction. Could we dial it down a little?


Of course, we must do everything possible to guarantee control of the external borders of the Schengen Area. But under what criteria should refugees be treated there? The Geneva Convention on Refugees applies to all E.U. countries, but it is also open to interpretation.

Almost all European countries are taking a more restrictive approach than Germany. Those who attempt to oppose that approach by insisting "solidarity is not a one-way street" are doing more damage than good. It would be realistic to redouble all efforts to secure the external borders, promote cross-border cooperation by police agencies, wage the fight against criminal trafficking operations, uniformly apply the Geneva Convention on Refugees and create rules to spread the refugees across Europe.

A period of perhaps three years should be set for this, and the Schengen Agreement should be suspended during this period – by all member states!

This is the right thing to do, from the standpoint of both European and domestic policy. The partisan fight over the refugee issue has become as intolerable as the elevated beer table on TV talk shows.

Pointing an accusatory finger at Brussels is disingenuous. Should Europe be made a scapegoat because almost all neighbors think differently? Do we want to hide behind Austria, Slovenia and Greece, so as not to damage our moral values?

Of course, the fundamental right to political asylum in Germany remains. And, of course, the Geneva Convention on Refugees applies. Dealing with that is enough of a challenge already, which is why we should not become embroiled in a dangerous debate over Europe, too.

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