Europe de­bates fu­ture of open bor­ders

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By An­gela Charl­ton

paris» Europe’s open bor­ders sym­bol­ize lib­erty and for­ward think­ing for many res­i­dents — but they in­creas­ingly look like the con­ti­nent’s Achilles’ heel.

Europe’s No. 1 ter­ror­ism sus­pect crossed at least two bor­ders this week de­spite an in­ter­na­tional man­hunt, and was felled only by chance, in a ran­dom ID check in a Mi­lan sub­urb. The bun­gled chase for Ber­lin mar­ket at­tack sus­pect Anis Amri is just one ex­am­ple of re­cent cross-bor­der se­cu­rity fail­ures that are em­bold­en­ing na­tion­al­ists fed up with Euro­pean unity. Ex­trem­ist vi­o­lence, they ar­gue, is too high a price to pay for the free­dom to travel eas­ily.

De­fend­ers of the EU’s bor­der­free zone say the se­cu­rity fail­ures show the need for more co­op­er­a­tion among Euro­pean gov­ern­ments, even shared mil­i­taries — not new bar­ri­ers. Hide­bound habits of hoard­ing in­tel­li­gence within cen­turies-old bor­ders, they con­tend, are part of the prob­lem.

But their ar­gu­ments are eas­ily drowned out by the likes of far­right leader Ma­rine Le Pen, who is hop­ing to win France’s pres­i­dency in May.

“The myth of to­tal free move­ment in Europe, which my ri­vals are cling­ing to in this pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, should be defini­tively buried. Our se­cu­rity de­pends on it,” she said in a state­ment Fri­day, call­ing Europe’s free-travel zone a “to­tal se­cu­rity catas­tro­phe.”

That poses a dilemma for Euro­pean Union devo­tees like Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, fac­ing a re-elec­tion bat­tle next year.

Merkel’s de­fense of the EU, and the wel­com­ing hand she ex­tended to Syr­ian war refugees, were once seen as as­sets, signs of her moral au­thor­ity. To­day, with anti-im­mi­grant, anti-estab­lish­ment sen­ti­ment ris­ing across Europe, they are threat­en­ing to be­come li­a­bil­i­ties.

Mil­lions of peo­ple cross bor­ders in the 26-coun­try Schen­gen travel zone every day, thanks to a 31-year-old sys­tem en­com­pass­ing nearly 400 mil­lion peo­ple that has dra­mat­i­cally boosted trade and job prospects across the world’s largest col­lec­tive econ­omy.

It’s a pil­lar of a sys­tem de­signed to pre­vent new world wars — a sys­tem that’s un­der grow­ing strain. While EU coun­tries de­bated over how to man­age an in­flux of mi­grants last year, eastern na­tions re­built fences and ex­posed EU weak­nesses.

The Ger­man far right is in­sist­ing on clos­ing the coun­try’s bor­ders. Merkel’s con­ser­va­tives are sug­gest­ing “tran­sit zones” to hold mi­grants at the bor­ders while their iden­ti­ties are con­firmed, and mak­ing it eas­ier to hold peo­ple in pre-de­por­ta­tion de­ten­tion.

Ber­lin truck at­tacker Amri is a painful ex­am­ple of how Is­lamic ex­trem­ists have used Europe’s open bor­ders to at­tack the prin­ci­ples of tol­er­ance they’re meant to epit­o­mize.

Af­ter mi­grat­ing il­le­gally from Tu­nisia in 2011, he was im­pris­oned for burn­ing down a mi­grant de­ten­tion cen­ter in Italy. When freed, at­tempts to de­port him to Tu­nisia failed for bu­reau­cratic rea­sons. He sub­se­quently trav­eled to Switzer­land and then Ger­many, where he ap­par­ently fell un­der the in­flu­ence of a radical net­work ac­cused of re­cruit­ing for the Is­lamic State group.

Al­though Ger­many re­jected his asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tion last sum­mer and flagged him as a po­ten­tial ter­ror threat, au­thor­i­ties pa­tiently waited for Tu­nisia to pro­duce the re­quired pa­per­work be­fore de­port­ing him.

And just as the de­por­ta­tion was be­ing fi­nal­ized Mon­day, Amri is be­lieved to have hi­jacked a truck and rammed it into hol­i­day crowds at a Ber­lin Christ­mas mar­ket, killing 12 and wound­ing dozens. He evaded an in­ter­na­tional man­hunt for more than three days.

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