Cries of a crumbling Europe are being heard worldwide. Today, some are suggesting the EU should be disenfranchised because of a disagreement with the European Union’s immigration policies. Brexit presented open immigration policies as an issue with European Union membership, and many across the channel are beginning to agree. But what is the European Union? And crucially, how can today’s immigration crisis be addressed under the European Union without dismantling the whole entity?
The European Union has twenty-eight member states and an internal single market. With the 1951 Treaty of Paris and the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the original foundation of the European Union was the Inner Six: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. It would be overly optimistic to argue that the European Union began as a liberty driven attempt to allow all European Union citizens to move and interact across the nation states. The reason for the European Union’s creation is beyond the scope of this article, but it is undeniable that today’s Europe is much more prosperous than it was in the 1950s, following the second World War.
“post-national, welfare-state, cooperative, pacific Europe was not born of the optimistic, ambitious, forward-looking project imagined in fond retrospect by today’s Euro-idealists. It was the insecure child of anxiety… to keep the past at bay” –Tony Judt
Immigration, and the EU’s free movement of peoples, is largely because of the Schengen agreement signed in 1985. It was originally signed between Belgium, France, West Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The Schengen Agreement aimed for “the gradual abolition of controls at their common borders”. Today, every European Union country is obligated to oblige by the Schengen Agreement because it is entrenched in European Union Law.
The Schengen Agreement is to thank for passport stamp free travel within the nation states covered by the agreement, for example one would not get their passport stamped travelling from France to Italy. However, travelling from Italy to the United Kingdom warrants a passport stamp. Out of all the European Union countries, there are two exempt from the Schengen Agreement- Ireland and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom and Ireland still retain more control over immigration than other European nation states, as it never signed the Schengen agreement, even before Brexit.
Brexit specifically saw immigration presented as a central problem with European Union Membership.
Immigration in Brexit discussions was seen as a problem for economic production, rather than a promise of prosperity. The initial reasons for Schengen have become distant memories for Brexit voters, as questions around the real benefits of immigration are proposed. Free and open immigration has become synonymous with European Union membership. It may be more helpful, however, to separate European Union Membership from the Schengen Agreement or immigration policies.
The Schengen agreement is the central policy that surrounds immigration and any action on immigration should likely attest to this. Rather than arguing for or against the European Union, it may be more helpful to argue for or against Schengen. In this way, I have separated membership in the European Union and agreement with one policy requirement of the European Union. A person can agree with the economic and political benefits of being part of the European Union and disagree with their current immigration policy.
It is not realistic to expect that dismembering the European Union will be the solution to the immigration crisis. Increased border control and closure policies may seem appealing, but the open immigration policies can be credited for much of Europe’s late twentieth century economic recovery. Brexit and other current political developments have shown that today’s world is vastly different from the 1950s post-war European Union. Immigration is just one of many policies constructed and implemented by the EU.
Whether through passport-free travel, or the free movement of labour, goods and services, the Union has shown European citizens and the world a new way. It has brought twenty-eight very different countries under one legal and economic umbrella.This historic accomplishment is not to be dismantled solely because of immigration issues but should rather challenge the European Union to create a future more aligned with today’s reality. Drawing from the Schengen Agreement, the European Union can be seen as promoting open immigration for the benefits it provides. The economy will rise and fall, jobs will come and go, but the European Union and the policies that come with it, offer Europeans more opportunity in a shrinking world.