Terror in Europe

The Multi-Billion-Euro Pricetag Of Shutting Down Schengen

With six European Union countries instituting new border controls, the end of three decades of free movement comes with a heavy price.

The Multi-Billion-Euro Pricetag Of Shutting Down Schengen
Marco Zatterin

BRUSSELS â€" Thirty years ago, the European Union’s passport-free Schengen zone came into being. At the time, the International Monetary Fund estimated that the abolition of border controls on the continent would add 1 to 3% to the area's GDP growth. In the most conservative estimate the pact has brought an additional 28 billion euros in economic growth; the sum could realistically be as high as 50 billion.

This is the scale of the kinds of economic benefits that would be lost if more countries were to re-impose border control, thus ending the three decades of free movement in Europe. And even a partial collapse of the zone could harbor significant costs for all.

Schengen at risk

In this tense and tumultuous time for the European Union as a whole, Schengen is in real danger of disappearing. Buckling under the pressure of the wave of migrants fleeing war and seeking better lives, six nations have “temporarily” reintroduced border controls with other EU members. While allowed for under exceptional circumstances by the agreement, this is the first time in two decades that such a closure has occurred. In the absence of Europe-wide solutions decided at minister-level meetings, more countries could follow suit to protect their security.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU for the first half of 2016, has warned that the eurozone has but a few months left to save the treaty from oblivion. He has also proposed a so-called “Schengen Plan B” â€" a last resort in which the zone could shrink to a core of five or six countries: the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria and perhaps France. Amsterdam needs open borders with Germany to maintain the viability of the important port of Rotterdam, but could favor ejecting Italy from the treaty, which it deems too hesitant in its border enforcement.

On the other hand, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has warned that any move to end Schengen would also spell the end of the euro. He may be exaggerating, but simple math tells us that the return of border controls would impose heavy costs on all member countries.

Re-imposing border controls would affect private citizens as well as commercial transport and freight, which would have to stop at every border along their journey. “The time lost at borders would depend on what border authorities are looking for,” says Guntram Wolff, director of the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel. “If they have to check every truck to ensure there are no undocumented migrants traveling in them, it would hardly be a matter of minutes.”

In a speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Juncker asserted that an extra hour spent waiting at the border would incur a loss of 55 euros per vehicle. Every year 60 million vehicles cross at least one European border, and if each spends even just half an hour at borders â€" a conservative guess. This would already cost European trade 1.6 billion euros. Poland, for example, sends 3.1 million trucks across the border to Germany every year: Ending Schengen would amount to a self-imposed tax of almost 100 million euros.

Unpredictable effects

It’s almost impossible to deduce the effects border controls would have on perishable goods. Spanish fruits destined for Denmark have to cross at least four borders: How long could this take on a day with high traffic? This would put “just-in-time” commerce at risk and force a revision of global distribution strategies. “The potential harm to producers is far higher than that to consumers,” explains Wolff.

There are also 1.7 million cross-border commuters, who Wolff says could lose 3 to 4 billion euros a year from renewed border controls. This number balloons to 5 billion euros if you include the 200 million citizens who spend at least one night in a bordering country, who would face significant time and opportunity cost from border checks.

The end of Schengen would also be costly for states, not just for their citizens. Denmark is spending 150,000 euros a day â€" 50 million a year â€" for added security checks on the Öresund bridge, which connects the Danish capital to the Swedish city of Malmö.

German authorities estimated additional costs of at least 100 million euros a year for new controls on the country’s nine borders, although this could rise to several billions. All of these costs threaten a weak continental economy still struggling to recover from two crises, and endanger the freedoms and well-being that Schengen has brought. The end of Schengen would not only make life and business difficult, but would also cost far more than declaring any war on terrorism. We must weigh the pursuit of a few thousand terrorists with Shengen's benefits for 500 million Europeans.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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