The Future of Schengen
Summary This autumn, new controversy surrounded the Schengen border cooperation, as the Danish government decided to extend the border control between Denmark and Germany for a further six months. The European Commission is under pressure to ensure a return to the open borders of the past, and according to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union address in September: "Where the borders have been reintroduced, they must be removed".
Open borders are a prerequisite for reaping major economic gains from the EU's internal market. Open borders also promote business development in border areas, such as in Schleswig or the Øresund region, and contribute to European cohesion. Nevertheless, it is not straightforward for the Commission to give a thumbs down to Denmark's request; not least because other countries, including Germany, France, Sweden, Austria and Norway, have similar requests. In Denmark there is popular support for border control. The Danish government can therefore be presumed to have limited appetite to abolish it. This is despite the fact that the numbers do not indicate that border control is an efficient use of police resources.
It is uncertain how long Denmark can maintain its temporary border control within the EU's Schengen border cooperation. There are three main scenarios for the future Schengen: the end of Schengen as we know it today, acceptance of the status quo with temporary border controls, or the return to Schengen as we knew it before 2015.
The compromise may be a Schengen 3.0, which defends freedom of movement as much as possible, while at the same time strengthening joint efforts considerably – especially at external, but also at internal, borders.
- Denmark has challenged the Schengen agreement by renewing its temporary control at the Danish-German border. The government has justified the decision with reference to the current security and migration situation.
- However, several Member States and the Commission are increasingly critical of this justification.
- Proponents of border control have used the number of rejected persons and charges made in connection with the control as an argument for its importance. But reviewing the numbers, it is questionable whether border control is an efficient use of police resources.
- Indeed, when comparing the results of the border control with the situation before the introduction of controls, the figures look much less convincing. Moreover, many Danes are among those charged at the border, and most charges are for traffic-related infringements.
- The police’s prioritisation of border control has had negative consequences for citizens' safety internally in Denmark. Since border controls were introduced, police response times have risen, while the charge rate for serious crime, vandalism and theft in Denmark has fallen drastically, and the average processing time from charging to sentencing for offenses such as theft has increased by 91 per cent.
- The EU’s ability to control external European borders is improving, and this diminishes arguments for continued control at internal borders.
- When Denmark challenges the Schengen rules, it risks creating a negative domino effect with respect to the Dublin Regulation, which enables Denmark to return asylum seekers to the first EU country in which they arrive. Particularly among the southern European countries, the acceptance of the Dublin Regulation is coupled with a return to free movement internally in the EU.
- There is a need for a reform of Schengen into a Schengen 3.0 that will pave the way for enhanced cooperation also on internal borders, in order to reduce domestic policy pressure in member states for maintaining physical, cost-heavy and inefficient national border control.
- The EU’s member states would continue to be responsible for exercising potential controls within their own borders, but their efforts could be supported by common European migration and safety assessments in the coordination of such activities.
- In addition, EU funds could be earmarked in the forthcoming framework budget to cover the costly measures of creating so-called Smart Borders at internal borders, including support for number plate scanners and radio frequency identification, for example.