The European Union recently celebrated 30 years of the border-free Schengen Area, a crucial pillar of the European Single Market. Schengen cooperation guards the fundamental right of 400 million E.U. citizens to cross internal borders without being subjected to cumbersome border checks. This guarantee also applies to many non-EU nationals, cross-border commuters, and tourists. With COP21 fast-approaching the city of Paris, the Schengen Area is struggling to find a balance between freedom of movement and security.
The refugee crisis in Europe has been the worst crisis since World War II. A record number of individuals are seeking asylum within the E.U. A U.N. refugee agency reported that 218,394 people crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe this October, which is close to the number from the entire year of 2014. The refugee crisis is challenging the notion of free movement of people across borders. Pressure is mounting to close the E.U.’s open borders along the migrant trail. The recent flood of refugees has overwhelmed countries outside of the E.U., which have been receiving limited support from Member States. European leaders are demanding a restoration of border control, and are questioning the concept of the Schengen area. Have citizens of the E.U. been taking Schengen and the right to move freely for granted?
The French government will reintroduce border controls for the month surrounding COP21, beginning on November 13th and ending on December 13th, two days after the COP21 is scheduled to end. According to Article 23 of the Schengen Borders Code, this measure is taken “where there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security.” The possibility that any open zone of the Schengen area will be suspended “is impending dangerously over the core principle of free movement and is a further blow to the European integration.”
For this month, no one—including E.U. citizens—will be able to move freely across French borders. French officials published a document via the E.U. Council which states France’s plan to reintroduce controls at the borders of Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, the Swiss Confederation, Italy and Spain “on the occasion of COP 21.” Le Monde published that “since the Borders Code came into force in 2006, each time border controls have been reintroduced, it has been for the purpose of preventing terrorism and crime, and for security purposes related to the hosting of international meetings or sports events.”
It’s not only the refugee crisis that is persuading France to close its borders. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chair of COP21, Laurent Fabius, says that 80 Heads of State and foreign officials will appear at the Conference. He fears violence by protesters and green activists. The Ministry has created a special procedure for accredited participants of COP21, particularly those that require a visa to enter France.
It seems that the civil society mobilizing for COP21 is being targeted; “embassies are requesting various documents including invitations from us and proof of the applicant’s ability to pay for transport, among other requests,” says a spokesperson for Coalition Climat 21. Mouhad Gasmi is the voice against shale gas in Alegeria. He filed a visa application on October 21st, invitation to COP21 in hand. The consulate of France in Algeria gave him an appointment for one month after COP21. Climate 21 further states, “the government is choosing who they want to take part in the official summit.”
The public is “unconvinced of the French government’s claim that it is willing to include them, in all their diversity, in the COP process.” Do France and other E.U. Member States need to sacrifice freedom for safety and peace?