Friends of Schengen to EU: Please don’t do away with Schengen!

December 8, 2015

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During his weekly radio address on Friday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced that Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland, the four EU member states who make up the so-called Visegrad 4 (V4), had met in Prague to create a new club called the “Friends of Schengen”.

So far, the “Friends of Schengen” is comprised of the V4 countries. What they want is to protect the freedom of EU member state citizens to travel freely within the Schengen zone.

In a joint statement released last week by the V4, the four countries declared that Schengen is a “key practical and symbolic achievement of European integration” and that a “proper functioning of Schengen and the preservation of free movement is not a divisive issue but must remain the key objective for all member states and the European Union institutions.”

The V4 went on to urge the European Union to work together towards preserving the Schengen zone in a “constructive manner” and announced the creation of the “Friends of Schengen” to provide a platform for “an open and productive discussion”.

(They did not explain why the Council of the European Union (aka the Council of Ministers) was not a suitable platform for “open and productive discussion” or, for that matter, how further dividing Europe promoted the cause of collective action.-ed.)

The V4 expressed their opinion that they consider any discussion of a mini-Schengen (a Schengen comprised of countries which does not include any V4 countries) to be an “opportunistic proposal for revolutionary transformation” because it would “not address the root causes of the current situation but only divert political attention”.

What’s the current situation?

With more than one million asylum seekers in the European Union (and millions seeking to pass through Turkey), the European Union has spent months calling for an EU-wide response to the crisis. It just so happens that the V4 countries have been among the loudest opponents to a quota system that would distribute asylum seekers already in the EU amongst EU Member States. What is  more, the official rhetoric coming from the V4 countries often completely disregards shared European values, international agreements and fundamental human rights.

One of the root causes of the current crisis is that the EU failed to develop and implement common immigration and external border policies when it set up Schengen.  “The EU has to decide:  it can either have free internal movement and a common external border and a common asylum policy, or it can see Schengen fall apart” says the EU expert Dan Kelemen, a professor of political science and law at Rutgers University.

There does not seem to be any recognition on the part of the V4 countries that a pending collapse of Schengen is the product of Hungary and other EU member states acting in an ad-hoc, unilateral manner in response to the European refugee crisis.  By erecting a fence along its 175 km border with Serbia, Hungary compelled asylum seekers to travel through Croatia and Slovenia on their way to Austria and Germany, leaving Croatia, Slovenia and Austria little choice but to build fences of their own.   In particular, the fence between Austria and Slovenia is in clear violation of Schengen.

(Unaccustomed to being held accountable by fellow EU member states for his strikingly anti-EU rhetoric and behavior, Viktor Orbán is understandably surprised to learn that Germany does not want to include Hungary and the other V4 states in the mini-Schengen zone being contemplated, not that it would affect HIS ability to travel freely within Europe-.ed.)

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