More than two decades after much of Europe began abolishing border controls under the so-called Schengen Agreement, the free movement of people and products between countries has helped transform the European Union into the world’s largest economy.
Today, Belgium is the latest country to suspend the rules of the Schengen accord allowing the free movement of citizens across most of Europe’s internal borders. Since autumn, Austria, Denmark, France, Norway and Sweden have joined Germany in imposing and extending temporary border checks. Fences have gone up on various other borders including ones in Hungary, Serbia and Croatia, and along the Austrian-Slovenian frontier.
But as the bloc now grapples with the biggest migration crisis since World War II, the revival of checkpoints on some of the region’s most important transport routes is crimping commerce and threatening to cost billions of euros in lost business just as Europe is recovering from a six-year economic slump.
With 57 million vehicles a year and 1.7 million workers a day crossing Europe’s frontiers, the European Union could face up to 18 billion euros, or $19.6 billion, each year in lost business, steeper freight and commuter costs, interruptions to supply chains, and government outlays for augmented border policing, according to a recent report by the European Commission, the bloc’s administrative arm.
Should the European Union revert to permanent border checks to slow Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi migrants traveling through Greece and the west Balkans toward Northern Europe, the long-term cost could exceed €100 billion, the French government calculated in a separate study.
With no end to the migrant crisis in sight, some national governments are pushing to expand the number of checkpoints around Europe and extend their use for up to two years. While some calls for suspending Schengen might be political posturing, critics worry that border controls will become a fact of life.
[New York Times]