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.