Dutch politicians have this week floated the idea of a smaller area within Europe’s open Schengen zone – also including countries such as Germany and Belgium – where passport controls would be carried out at the perimeter. What would such a move mean for the Czech Republic and other states left outside such a “mini-Schengen”? That’s a question I put to Benjamin Tallis from Prague’s Institute of International Relations.
“It would mean then possible waiting times at the border for people moving through but also for commercial transit.
“That would have not only inconvenient effects on people’s travel – potentially it would also slow down business flows and also add to the costs of businesses.”
Politically, what would it mean for countries outside the core, outside the so-called “mini-Schengen”? Would it be a kind of slap in the face for them?
“In some ways it certainly would. I think this is the really important thing to realise about Schengen – it’s such a key achievement of the EU. Being excluded from it is an indication of Europe of different speeds, let’s say.
“Certainly Czech people and others in the Visegrad Four – in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – have gained an awful lot from being in Schengen, from the feeling of being part of Europe and the feeling of being part of the EU, and being able to exercise one of the real benefits that people can feel on a daily basis. But also from the sense of belonging this provides.
“So there’s definitely a danger of creating a sort of hierarchy of belonging, a two-tier Europe.
“But we also have to ask where that slap in the face is coming from. It’s coming from an unwillingness to share the burdens as well as the benefits of being members of Schengen.”
How likely is this scenario to become reality, do you think?
“Whether that means creating a reinforced external border management system, whereby Schengen member states share the costs and duties of that more evenly, and indeed the creation of a common migration and asylum system where again burdens and costs would have to be shared between the states, or whether it actually means revising the Schengen zone itself and revising the borders of Schengen, has very much to be seen.
“There are all sorts of political machinations involved in deciding that. Certainly there have been big supporters of Schengen in the bigger member states, big supporters of free movement, including Angela Merkel in the past, who certainly sees it as one of the key achievements of the EU.
“So dismantling that – which would come at a cost to EU credibility, as well as to the practical benefits that people enjoy – would not be a step they would take lightly.”