Time To Close Borders Inside Europe? A Ridiculous Idea

Right-wing politicians think we should abandon the Schengen Area, and return to national borders within Europe. That would make about as much sense as putting a wall around Sicily.

Bulgarian customs officers near the border fence between Bulgaria and Turkey
Bulgarian customs officers near the border fence between Bulgaria and Turkey
Marco Zatterin


BRUSSELS — In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, Europe's right-wing and populist movements have proposed abolishing the EU Schengen Area and returning to border controls as a means to temper growing Islamist terror threats. It's a good headline, but it's doesn't really have legs to stand on.

The Schengen Agreement doesn't remove any supervisory powers from national authorities, except insofar as it requires avoiding any kind of systematic assessment at borders. It was signed enthusiastically by almost every country in the European Union (and even by some not in the club) because freedom of movement is a priceless asset for citizens and provides unique opportunities for businesses.

Border controls don't stop terrorism — not when states are democratic and functioning. Locking down the border with Libya makes sense. But with Austria, no. Saïd and Cherif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, who were responsible for the deadly attacks in Paris, were all French nationals known to police. With or without Schengen, these attacks would have happened.

It can be argued that the real danger comes from foreign fighters — European citizens who go to Syria to train, then return home to carry out attacks. Their journeys involve traveling through a third border where the controls are. So the problem must be tackled with greater cooperation between investigators and stricter control over who comes and goes from Europe, not those who are already inside.

In an interview with La Stampa last week, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini denounced the rivalries between various security services and their reluctance to share information. It's here that we need to act. Europe needs to be better integrated.

Imagine this ...

It's silly to attack Schengen. It would be an unnecessary restriction on our freedom, and it would resemble an admission of defeat. On our integrated continent, this would create huge inconveniences at border crossings for trucks and other heavy vehicles. It would cost dizzying amounts in terms of business competitiveness. Today, a truck is subject to checks at departure and arrival without stops in the middle. It's easy to imagine what would happen if it had to be checked every single time. The queues in Bardonecchia on the Italy-France border would back up for kilometers, to say nothing of the pollution it would cause.

The Schengen Area (light blue) — Source: Ssolbergj

So it's better to coordinate and work together because national responses to global phenomena aren't enough. In the fight against those who want to destroy our achievements, the whole continent must be united.

We need better measures, but abandoning the Schengen Agreement isn't it. If we need border controls to keep out terrorists, what about introducing internal borders between regions to stop organized crime in Italy? Any gangster can travel from the south to the north and vice versa without having to go through checkpoints.

Putting it simply, if far-right politicians such as Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini are right, it would therefore be appropriate to return to Italy's pre-1861 unification situation. We could build some nice barracks along the A1 highway that runs through the Apennines and check anyone traveling from Tuscany to Emilia-Romagna. We could build a fortress at Villa San Giovanni in Calabria, and put walls all around the island of Sicily. Having to hire so many customs officers would even solve the country's employment problem!

In preventing Italians from moving freely around their country but defeating the Mafia at the same time, we could even raise the issue of restricting movement in big cities and small towns. Maybe we should ask our citizens not to leave their homes in the name of fighting crime. But, that's OK, right? If we scrap the Schengen Agreement, we will eliminate jihadism and terrorism, and Europe will be free at last. Every victory has its price.

It's a shame we never thought of this before.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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