It was another tough week for the Schengen acquis, one of the most important and historical achievements of the European Union. The agreement, which enables the free circulation of people among 22 of the 28 EU countries, and also a few non-EU countries (Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway), found itself in the line of fire when many countries, over the last few months, decided to temporarily reintroduce border controls as a result of the refugee and migration crisis. Austria, last in the queue, decided on Saturday to "temporarily suspend" Schengen while Sweden recently restarted border checks with Denmark and the latter announced the implementation of spot checks on its border with Germany. It must be said that, even that temporary relocation system, introduced after countless EU summits, succeeded in resettling only 272 of the agreed 160,000 individuals, out of the over a million refugees and migrants that arrived in Europe in 2015.
The issue of the future of Schengen as well as the need for a review of the Dublin system were raised on Thursday during a debate with the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament. During the meeting Dimitri Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, stated, among other things, that "we need to improve the management of our external borders in order to maintain Schengen." But is this the only real point that can be made here?
Instead of putting the emphasis on keeping all migrants and refugees away from our borders, we should maybe ask ourselves whether social integration policies would be a more appropriate way of governing this difficult and divisive issue. It is indeed necessary to invest in integration policies and social policies for all, whether local or not. We need to find a path to sustainable economic development that is able to create new jobs and generate new economic activities. This would also be essential for the integration of the major flows of refugees and migrants, which, given the current international situation, are unlikely to cease any time soon.
"There are not enough resources for a truly inclusive social policy, not only for migrants and refugees, but also for many Europeans," explains Monica Frassoni, Co-chair of the European Green Party. She continues: "because of the crisis and because of austerity, in France the first thing to fall through has been social and cultural mediation in the banlieues. The EU budget on integration was cut by 20%. In short, expending huge amounts of resources to control you and me when we go to Paris or Madrid will not make us safer."
"Is our objective really to keep out the highest possible number of those people who are fleeing war and are entitled to protection, and to pass them on to neighbouring countries? We must organise ourselves and move human and material resources, today often wasted, towards welcoming these people. Our societies are already multicultural. It's now up to us to find ways to make them liveable and generous to those in need, but strict in the rejection of hatred, violence and exclusion, either as expressed by fanatical extremists who came from afar, or by the racists-next-door."