February 15, 2016
The Schengen Agreement not only carries an historical importance for a continent where frontiers had long been a major cause for devastating conflicts. The abolition of border controls within the EU has also brought huge tangible benefits to individuals and businesses in a variety of ways including mobility, trade, and security. It is appalling how in the past weeks several decision-makers have appeared to forget this obvious truth.
The speed with which goods and services can now travel across country borders and the resulting increase in citizens and labour mobility have generated massive gains for local and regional economies. Consider the revenues brought by tourism and trade on which plenty of local and regional communities, in particular in local border regions, are often highly dependent.
It is also worth looking at the role played by Schengen in facilitating cross border projects and initiatives, leading regional and local authorities of neighbouring countries to work together on a number of issues such as entrepreneurship, the development of SMEs, tourism, culture, or the joint building and use of infrastructures. Last but not least, the Schengen treaty has given a strong contribution to the building of a European identity while helping to reinforce regional and local specificities.
That is why we are deeply concerned about the current debate on the future “of the greatest achievement of the EU project”, to quote Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Commissioner for migration. While we understand that Member States may opt for a temporary reintroduction of border controls under exceptional circumstances, we believe that a 2-year suspension of the Schengen system would deal a serious blow to local and regional economies at a time where most of them are emerging from a long recession, if not still grappling with an acute crisis.
Moreover, allowing for such a reintroduction of internal controls may ultimately widen the discretion of Member States to apply or keep exemptions to EU free movement even when this two-year period will end.
Worst: the proposal floated by some heads of State to expel one or more countries from the Schengen Area – although Schengen rules do not foresee the possibility of such a suspension – could set a dangerous precedent whose implications for the EU project could prove potentially ruinous in the long term. The same risks would materialize if Member States would attempt to review the Schengen acquis on a much stricter basis.
The refugees’ crisis has certainly been a wake up call on some key issues that were underestimated for too long. But this crisis is the very illustration that global problems can be only tackled with more Europe, not less. It is foolish to think that the refugees’ emergency will cease by closing internal borders. It will only worsen.
The principle of free movement within EU borders should be preserved and reinforced. It is a crucial stepping stone on the road to complete the single market within the EU. And any attempt to weaken it would put into question the prosperity of EU national, regional and local entities altogether.
Mario Oliverio, President of Calabria region
Christiana Kalogirou, Governor, North Aegean Region
Enrico Rossi, President of Toscana region
Rosario Crocetta, President of Sicilia region
Raül Romeva i Rueda, Minister for External Affairs, Institutional Relations and Transparency, Government of Catalonia
Apostolos Katsifaras, Regional Governor of Western Greece
Catiuscia Marini, President of Umbria region
Simonetta Saliera, President of Emilia-Romagna regional council
Franco Iacop, President of Friuli Venezia Giulia regional council
Stavros Arnaoutakis, Regional Governor of CreteBlogactiv Team