Since its introduction, Europe’s Passport-free Schengen area has greatly complimented the EU’s Single Market, giving a tangible reality to the Union’s four fundamental freedoms. Entailing 26 EU and non-EU member countries, the ability to freely move goods, services, capital and people easily and with great efficiency across borders has been an invaluable factor of the Single Market’s economic success and growth.
Because of pressures on internal borders arising from the growing influx of asylum-seekers and migrants seeking to reach certain Member States, as well as security concerns in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, Passport-free travel across the Schengen area has been called into question by an increasing number of Member States. As a result, a growing number of Member States have reintroduced border checks calling for the collapse of the agreement and the restoration of national border checks.
As an unpinning factor of Europe’s Single Market, a reintroduction of border controls would entail significant and immediate costs on members. The European Parliaments’ Internal Research Service, for example estimates, that Member States such as Poland, the Netherlands and Germany would face over €500 in additional costs for the cross-border road transport of traded goods.
While a potential collapse of Schengen would entail immense financial costs to the European economic growth and thus have an impact on employment, it would also affect even more Europe’s established perception of freedom and what it means to be ‘European.’
For many, the Schengen area and its freedom to travel (almost) anywhere in the EU without border checks is a fundamental feature of the European integration process. Borders are, by nature, an artificial barrier put in place to divide and separate groups of people claiming different identities. For instance, Germany’s border to Austria claims to separate different people. On one side, you find ‘Germans’, and, on the other side, ‘Austrians’, each claiming separate notions of heritage and identity. However, would one remove the border, one would find that, in the border-regions, cross-border culture, heritage and identity are deeply intertwined.
Through the removal of ‘artificial’ barriers between people, Schengen enables people from different cultures to come together, experience different traditions and cultures and find commonalities.
The EU is as much a value-based community as it is a political and economic community. The underlying foundation of the European project is based upon a philosophy that all people share the same values. It is this belief in the values of civil freedom, peace and equality that identify us as European. The freedom of Passport-free travel in the Schengen area enables citizens to live Europe’s underlying civil values and is a fundamental pillar of European integration.