Migrant Lives

Cracks In Schengen As Europe Builds Walls Against Migrants

From Hungary to Switzerland, fortifications are rising in the heart of Europe, where the once-heralded borderless zone is being diminished by the day.

Cracks In Schengen As Europe Builds Walls Against Migrants
Marie Maurisse, Maryline Baumard, Joëlle Stolz, Alain Salles

GENEVA â€" The Hungarian government announced plans earlier this month to build a 175-kilometer-long, four-meter-tall barrier along its border with Serbia. Ostensibly for protection, the project is yet another barricade built at the edges of the European Union, where the foundations of the borderless Schengen Area are weakening by the day.

Faced with the growing difficulty of leaving Greece by sea or air, migrants are choosing the long land route through the Balkan peninsula to reach the Schengen Area. As we near its 30th anniversary, tensions between member states are intensifying. In France, Austria and Switzerland, the specter of closing borders to keep out migrants is rearing its ugly head.

A quarter-century after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hungary wants to rebuild a physical frontier with Serbia, this time to block access to the EU for thousands of northward-bound asylum seekers. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto declared that his government would launch technical and diplomatic preparations for the erection of a fence spanning the Serb-Hungarian border between the Hungarian cities of Mohacs and Szeged. (Late Monday, Hungary's parliament approved the plans for the giant barrier.)

The border is one of the last open land routes left in the peninsula, where refugees fleeing the Middle East wars and southern Europe's failing economies make their way through Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia to reach the holy grail of Schengen. EU border surveillance agency Frontex reported 43,360 illegal border crossings in the Balkans in 2014, up from 6,400 in 2012. An alarming 50,000 have been recorded since January of this year, half from Kosovo alone.

With a population of just under 10 million, Hungary is finding itself on another frontline of the EU's burgeoning humanitarian crisis. The number of asylum seekers in Hungary grew to over 50,000 last year, a figure already surpassed in the first half of 2015.

"The EU is still looking for a solution, but Hungary can't keep waiting anymore," says Szijjarto. He notes that Budapest isn't violating any international agreements and that there is ample precedent for similar barriers to guard against illegal immigration.

"I'm shocked and surprised," Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic says of the Hungarian plan. He resents Budapest's decision not to consult Belgrade before opting to build the fence. "We count on discussing these issues with our partners in the EU," Vukic says. Hungary was among the countries most hostile to the European Commission's proposal to distribute 40,000 refugees currently in Greece and Italy among the bloc's 28 members.

Walls are futile

Seeking to counter the rising popularity of the extreme-right Jobbik party, the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently released a controversial survey to its citizens that associated immigration with terrorism. Budapest also used public funds to embark on an extensive poster campaign to promote the survey, a move that attracted criticism from the European parliament. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) responded with its own campaign highlighting Hungary's ability to absorb asylum seekers and the economic benefits of their integration.

"Walls have never been useful, and they're easy to get around," says Yves Pascouau of the Jacques Delors Institute. In Greece, the flood of migrants that used to cross the Evros river along the Turkish border has stopped since Athens constructed a barricade. But the refugees set their sights elsewhere and the influx resumed, this time on the Greek isles closest to the Turkish coast, where they continue their arduous journey through the Balkans.

Further to the west, Italy has been enduring a considerable inflow of refugees for the past two years. Rome is increasingly on a collision course with its neighbors in France, Austria and Switzerland, who are growing increasingly tempted to close their borders with Italy to incoming migrants. Hundreds of refugees are stranded at the Franco-Italian border near Ventimiglia, putting strain on the countries' relations.

"What's happening in Ventimiglia evokes the events of 2011, when the diplomatic spat between France and Italy led to a modification of the Schengen agreement that allowed for the provisional re-establishment of border controls," Pascouau explains. "This has to relate to specific criteria, such as the disruption of public order, and I'm not sure that this condition has been satisfied this time around. But I also don't think the European Commission will request the European Court of Justice to rule if France's actions violated EU rules."

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve notes that France didn't close the border. "People are still crossing it," he says. "Actually, we are sending people back to Italy, which is legal under European law." He cites the Dublin Regulation, which requires asylum seekers to remain in the first European country in which they arrive, a heavy burden primarily shouldered by Italy and Greece.

Austria announced on June 13 that it would suspend all asylum requests and begin placing border controls along its frontier with Italy. Switzerland, which isn't an EU member but is part of the Schengen Area, is similarly alarmed by the migrant crisis. Three days after the Austrian announcement, the Swiss declared that the number of refugees crossing into the alpine nation from Italy was "exceptionally high." Over the course of just two days, 350 people entered the country from the Chiasso crossing, causing a bottleneck at the border.

Switzerland isn't equipped for the growing tide of "claimants," as Bern calls them. In 2014, 23,765 people submitted asylum requests in a country with fewer than 2,000 places in its official refugee centers. Almost half of the requests came from people in the Italian-speaking part of the country, in the canton of Ticino. The government planned to build 5,000 extra rooms for refugees but ran into fierce opposition from the cantons.

Enough is enough

To deal with the influx, Swiss authorities have imposed a hierarchical system to prioritize certain asylum requests over others. Consideration of requests from Eritrean refugees, who comprise the vast majority of new arrivals, has been suspended. Due to the urgency of the situation, the state secretary for migration increased the number of beds available in "public shelters," or bunkers. Generally located underground, the bunkers have been around since a 1963 law mandated their construction for every new building to protect people in case of an emergency. The decision to house the migrants in the shelters sparked demonstrations by the left, with protesters brandishing the slogan "no bunkers, no deportation."

According to the Swiss People's Party, the country's largest, "enough is enough." The populist outfit is demanding the suspension of the asylum law for at least a year. With parliament currently debating a bill that would expedite the application process for refugees, it remains to be seen which direction Switzerland, and Europe, will take.

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The Olympic torch is lit at the Archaeological site of Olympia in Greece.

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Asham!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Pyongyang test fires a suspected submarine-launched missile, Colin Powell is remembered, Poland-EU tensions rise, and yay (or yeesh): it's officially Ye. Meanwhile, our latest edition of Work → In Progress takes the pulse of the new professional demands in a recovering economy.

[*Oromo - Ethiopia and Kenya]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

How China flipped from tech copycat to tech leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.

Emmanuel Grasland / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• North Korea fires missile off Japan coast: South Korea military reports that North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the coast of Japan. The rocket, thought to have been launched from a submarine, is the latest test in a series of provocations in recent weeks.

• Poland/EU tensions: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused the EU of "blackmail" and said the European Union is overstepping its powers, in a heated debate with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the rule of law. The escalation comes in the wake of a controversial ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that puts national laws over EU principles.

• Colin Powell remembered: Tributes are pouring for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, after his death yesterday at age 84. Although fully vaccinated, Powell died from complications from COVID-19 as he was battling blood cancer. A trailblazing soldier, he then helped shape U.S. foreign policy, as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and served as the nation's top diplomat for George W. Bush. Powell's legacy is, by his own admission, "blotted" by his faulty claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the U.S. war in Iraq.

• Russia to suspend NATO diplomatic mission amid tension: Russia is suspending its diplomatic mission to NATO and closing the alliance's offices in Moscow as relations with the Western military block have plunged to a new low. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the move after NATO expelled eight diplomats from Russia's mission for alleged spying. Relations between NATO and Russia have been strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

• Ecuador state of emergency to battle drug crime: President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency amid Ecuador's surge in drug-related violence. He announced the mobilization of police and the military to patrol the streets, provide security, and confront drug trafficking and other crimes.

• Taliban agrees to house-to-house polio vaccine drive: The WHO and Unicef campaign will resume nationwide polio vaccinations after more than three years, as the new Taliban government agreed to support the campaign and to allow women to participate as frontline health workers. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and infectious disease

• Kanye West officially changes name: Some say yay, some say yeesh, but it's official: The-artist-formerly-known-as-Kanye-West has legally changed his name to Ye, citing "personal reasons."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

The Washington Post pays tribute to Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. Secretary of State, who died at 84 years old from complications from COVID-19.


💬  LEXICON

Jashn-e Riwaaz

Indian retailer Fabindia's naming its new collection Jashn-e Riwaaz, an Urdu term meaning "celebration of tradition," has been met with severe backlash and calls for boycott from right-wing Hindu groups. They are accusing the brand of false appropriation by promoting a collection of clothes designed for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but giving it a name in Urdu, a language spoken by many Muslims.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Work → In Progress: Where have all the workers gone?

After the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world are taking advantage of loosened lockdowns and progress on the vaccine front to ramp up operations and make up for lost productivity. But the frenetic spurts of the recovery are getting serious pushback. This edition of Work → In Progress looks not only at the coming changes in our post-COVID economy, but also the ways our world is re-evaluating professional obligations.

🗓️ Hail the 4-day week Across the planet, the shorter work week trend is spreading like wildfire. Four is the new five. Spain began experimenting with the concept earlier this year. New Zealand launched a similar trial run in 2020. And in Iceland, efforts to curb working hours date all the way back to 2015, with significant results: 86% of the country's workforce gained the right to reduce work hours with no change in pay.

🚚 Empty seats In the United States, meanwhile, a severe lack of truck drivers has the country's transportation industry looking to hire from abroad. The only problem is … the shortage is happening worldwide, in part because of the e-commerce boom in the wake of worldwide quarantines. The Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano reports that companies will be scrambling to fill the jobs of 17,000 truck drivers in the next two years. The article blames low wages and the dangerous nature of the job, stating that Italian companies are making moves to employ foreign workers.

💼 Key help wanted It's all well and good to question current working conditions. But what about 20 years from now? Will we be working at all? A recent article in the French daily Les Echos posed just that question, and posits that by 2041 — and with the exception of a few select jobs — automation and digitalization will decimate employment. The piece refers to the lucky few as "essential workers," a concept that originated with COVID lockdowns when almost all labor halted and only a minority of workers capable of performing society's most crucial in-person tasks were allowed to carry on.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm worried for my Afghan sisters."

— Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai Nobel Prize tells the BBC that despite the Taliban's announcement that they would soon lift the ban on girls' education in Afghanistan, she worries it "might last for years."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

The Olympic torch is lit at the Archaeological site of Olympia in Greece. The flame will be transported by relay to Beijing, China, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics next February — Photo: Eurokinissi/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more yay or yeesh about the artist currently known as Ye? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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