Europe debates future of open borders
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.