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Debate: Schengen Agreement

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Should the Schengen Agreement be dissolved?

Background and context

The first Schengen area was created in 1985, when France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands decided to create a territory within the European Union without internal borders, that would ease the free movement of people, goods and ideas that the EU was striving for. The Schengen area was later expanded to include Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Norway, Switzerland and Iceland, although not part of the EU, have also signed on to the Schengen agreement, allowing travellers to enter their territory on Schengen terms. Eire and the United Kingdom have chosen to remain outside the Schengen Zone. The ten Eastern European countries that have entered the EU in 2004, are expected to sign on to the Schengen agreement in 2007. The main measures of the agreement are: 1) the removal of checks at common borders, replacing them with external border checks 2) a common definition of the rules for crossing external borders 3) separation in air terminals and ports of people traveling within the Schengen area from those arriving from countries outside the area 4) harmonizing the rules regarding conditions of entry and visas for short stays 5) coordination between administrations on surveillance of borders (liaison officers, harmonizing instructions and staff training) 6) the definition of the role of carriers in the fight against illegal immigration 7) requirement for all non EU nationals moving from one country to another to lodge a declaration 8) the drawing up of rules for asylum seekers ( Dublin Convention ) 9) the introduction of rights of surveillance and not pursuit 10) the strengthening of legal cooperation through a faster extradition system and faster distribution of information about the implementation of criminal judgments 11) the creation of the Schengen Information System (SIS).

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Argument #1

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Yes

The Schengen agreement has opened internal borders within Europe, but externally the opposite is true. Thus, while citizens of the belonging countries enjoy complete freedom of movement, citizens of non-member countries find that it is more difficult to receive entry visas to enter the Schengen area. As the Schengen area continues to expand, it enforces more and more restrictions on countries that lie outside its borders, turning borders that have historically been open into real fortresses and thus significantly affecting the political and economic relations between long-term allies. For example, the eastern borders of East European States that already enjoy some Schengen privileges are hardening, cutting their inhabitants off from neighbours such as Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

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No

The Schengen agreement often favours those who apply for Schengen visas since once a visa is granted, they can easily travel throughout all the countries that have signed the Agreement. This process not only saves money but it also allows for more freedom of movement for those who enter the Schengen area under a visa regime. Countries are free to choose whether they want to become part of the Schengen regime or not, and are thus making a rational and informed decision on whether the Schengen agreement serves them better than maintaining open borders with traditional allies that are not part of the Schengen area.

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Argument #2

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Yes

As new members are accepted, the Schengen area becomes more and more difficult to police, thus putting more pressure on members that are particularly worried about illegal immigration. Exceptions to the one border check rule are often granted and border police are allowed to conduct random identity checks throughout the territory of a particular member state, and to target particular racial and ethnic groups (such at the Turks and Iraqis often targeted by German police). This leads to potential discrimination and abuses whereas returning to traditional border checks would greatly reduce any need to harass ordinary people about their immigration status in this way. Given the different enforcement abilities of different member states, the security of one state is often not protected because of the carelessness of another. For example, it is often easier for illegal immigrants to enter through Italy or Greece and then continue on to countries like France and Germany.

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No

The Schengen Information System (SIS) has been a very successful tool for managing and curbing crime and illegal immigration in the Schengen area. While mishaps are to be expected at any border, the Schengen borders have comparatively been equally if not more effective than traditional borders. Through the SIS the Schengen agreement has been able to streamline immigration and asylum policy, thus making it easier to manage immigrants in a consistent manner. With the creation of Europol, information can now be easily exchanged and tracked throughout the different member states, making it easier to catch and keep track of criminals and illegal immigrants. The Schengen members are now working on developing the SIS II system which will make it easier to manage a constantly expanding Schengen area. Targeting particular groups at border controls is unfortunately a tactic that is employed by most countries in the world and one that would not disappear if the Schengen agreement were to be dissolved.

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Yes

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No

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Argument #3

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Yes

The fact that not all the EU members are part of the Schengen agreement means that the EU is divided in two areas: one in which the free movement of people is achieved and one in which it is not. This threatens to create two different ways of approaching the questions of justice and security within the EU: one that is managed through the SIS system and EUROPOL, and one that is managed through the traditional justice and home affairs legislation within the Union framework itself. This could turn out to be a particularly divisive force within a Union that is already faltering with the failure to sign a common Constitution.

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No

The EU, just like the Schengen Agreement, is a work in progress and the final goals of these two processes should not be confused with a particular stage in their development. The Schengen Agreement has been supported by the majority of EU members since its inception in 1985 and has not caused any of the feared divisions in the 20 years of its existence. There is thus little reason to believe that this division will occur any time in the future. In fact it already covers all the continental states of the EU to provide an area of seamless travel. While the EU is indeed a Union, it is also a Union of States with recognized rights to shape their own security and justice affairs. Unlike the continental members of the EU, Britain and Ireland have traditionally looked at borders not as sources of conflict but rather as natural mechanisms of defence, because of their position as islands. The Schengen agreement has allowed them to also collaborate within the SIS and EUROPOL, thus complementing the traditional framework of the Union, of which, ultimately, the Schengen Agreement is a part.

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Argument #4

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Yes

The issue of Kaliningrad poses a serious problem as to how the external border will be managed once Poland and Lithuania become part of the Schengen area. Cutting Russia off from part of its own territory could significantly strain relationships between Russia and the EU.

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No

The issue of Kaliningrad will most likely be resolved through an exception to the Schengen rules. The EU has been very open to suggestions from their Russian counterparts and it is unlikely that this will lead to a conflict situation. In any case, the peculiar status of Kaliningrad is not a reason to dissolve the Schengen agreement as a whole.

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Argument #5

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Yes

Since the Schengen Agreement was first designed and implemented the world has moved on and become a much more dangerous place. The war on terror has already brought bombings to a number of European cities, and this changed circumstance makes Schengen a luxury the EU can no longer afford. Even before September 11th 2001 the drawbacks of open borders in terms of crime were obvious - which is why Paris broke with Schengen rules to impose stricter checks against drugs flowing into France from the more relaxed regime in the Netherlands. Since 9/11 there is a pressing need for stricter border controls to catch international terrorists and prevent the movement of dangerous materials which could be used in terror attacks.

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No

Scrapping the Schengen Agreement in the face of terrorism would be to give in to the terrorists. The Agreement is part of the open, free society which the extremists are attacking, with its aim of cooperation between different nationalities and the development of a peaceful European identity. Retreating behind national borders would only encourage them in their attacks, and would be ineffective in seeking to prevent future violence. Investigation of attacks in Madrid, London and Paris have all revealed that the terrorists were legal residents, free to come and go regardless of border restrictions. Rather than dissolving Schengen the solution to terrorism lies in better intelligence gathering and cooperation between states (not likely to be encouraged by a retreat behind national borders), and by addressing the problems of alienation and poverty within our societies which serve as breeding grounds for extremism.

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