Fences of Fear

April 25 — May 1, 2016 ▶ ▶ Bor­der-free move­mente­ment in Europe hits a road­block ▶ ▶ “That’s why the trucks rucks go non­stop”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Global Economics -

Peer­ing through his rain-lashed wind­shield, Zoltan Unc­zorg al­ter­nates edg­ily be­tween the brake and gas pedal of his 18-wheeler truck. “It’s very tir­ing,” the stur­dily built Hun­gar­ian says as he crawls along in a line of ve­hi­cles ap­proach­ing the Aus­tria-ger­many bor­der.

Af­ter more than eight hours on the road car­ry­ing fan parts from Tapolca, Hun­gary, Unc­zorg has no pa­tience for de­lays. And this day is bet­ter than usual. He’s had to deal with waits of about four hours at this check­point, set up in Septem­ber to block mi­grants from en­ter­ing Ger­many on the A3 high­way. It’s a route he plies daily for elec­tric-mo­tor maker Ebm-papst. “The worst was last sum­mer, when mi­grants were walk­ing on the high­way head­ing for Ger­many,” he says. “It was too dan­ger­ous to drive quickly. You could hit them by ac­ci­dent.”

The de­lays Unc­zorg must en­dure stem from the ero­sion of a sys­tem that took 30 years to evolve and has al­lowed bor­der­less travel across 26 coun­tries. Restor­ing wide­spread bor­der con­trols would be a blow for the most vis­i­ble achieve­ment in the 60-year quest for a united Europe, con­ceived in the rub­ble of World War II: the era­sure of na­tional bound­aries.

Free move­ment is a given in what’s called the Schen­gen Area, named for the Lux­em­bourg town where the 1985 treaty dis­man­tling bor­der con­trols was signed. Now, Aus­tria, France, Ger­many, and Swe­den have rein­tro­duced some bor­der check­points in re­sponse to Europe’s big­gest refugee cri­sis since the war. About 1 mil­lion mi­grants ar­rived in Greece and Italy in 2015, and many have moved north. In ad­di­tion to stem­ming the flow of peo­ple, the check­points are meant to de­ter ter­ror­ist at­tacks and to de­flate the growth of anti-im­mi­gra­tion move­ments.

The eco­nomic cost of aban­don­ing Schen­gen would be mas­sive. A per­ma­nent re­turn to bor­der con­trols could cost the Euro­pean econ­omy €470 bil­lion ($532 bil­lion) in gross do­mes­tic prod­uct growth over the next 10 years, ac­cord­ing to the Ber­tels­mann Foun­da­tion, a Ger­man think tank. That’s like los­ing a com­pany al­most the size of BMW ev­ery year for a decade.

The open borders power an econ­omy of more than 400 mil­lion peo­ple. Com­pa­nies in Ger­many’s in­dus­trial heart­land rely on elab­o­rate, just-in-time sup­ply chains that take ad­van­tage of lower costs in Hun­gary and Poland. French su­per­mar­kets are sup­plied with fresh pro­duce that speeds from Por­tu­gal and Spain. And transna­tional com­mutes have be­come com­mon­place be­cause Euro­peans can choose to, say, live in Bel­gium and work in France.

For many in the EU, pass­port­free travel is part of be­ing Euro­pean.

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