Ripple Effects of Paris Attacks Likely, Future of Schengen Unclear
Even with the world still reeling from the slew of violent attacks that occurred throughout the night of November 12 and the day of November 13 in the French capitol of Paris, the political ramifications of the bloodshed loom on the horizon.
France, as one of the original seven members of the Schengen Agreement, has maintained open borders with her European brethren for the past 20 years. The 1995 Schengen Agreement, signed initially by Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, established what has been known as the “Schengen Area,” which has since grown to include Italy, Austria, Greece, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Malta, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Schengen countries are highlighted below in purple.
The result of the agreement was what is, in effect and enforcement, the equivalent of a single state area. While the members of the agreement have obviously retained their sovereignty and distinct governments, the internal borders of the country have remained open to travel by land, sea, or sky. Passport controls were graduated out of the system, as were checkpoints for entry. Along with the implementation of the Euro in 1999, the Schengen Agreement has made it exponentially easier for Europeans to live and work across borders. Tourists also enjoy the free movement under the Schengen Agreement, spending money all over the EU as a result of the ease of entry.
France, a country slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Texas, shares a border with Italy, a country slightly smaller than the U.S. state of New Mexico. Without the Schengen Agreement, French and Italian residents would need to border controls every time they left their home country. With many European states being the spatial equivalent of an American state, such controls could significantly burden not only the European workforce, but also industry (including one of the largest European industries: tourism).
The ongoing Syrian refugee crisis has challenged the strength of the Schengen agreement. Syrians fleeing both an oppressive regime and a terrorist insurrection have turned to European neighbors for safety and relief. Many European countries, in the spirit of humanitarianism, have opened their borders to refugees and extended the number of refugees they annually take.
Some countries, especially Eastern European countries facing the initial brunt of immigration, have voiced concerns and even refusal to honor the Schengen agreement when concerning refugees, many of which haven’t obtained the necessary documentation to cross Schengen boarders. While the number of refugees emigrating remains a small percentage of the current European population, the rapid influx of refugees has challenged countries with more people than some say they can handle.
In September, Germany closed its border with Austria in hopes of slowing the slew of refugees coming to Bavaria via an neo-Alpine route flowing from Greece up into Budapest and, eventually, Munich.
A Greek passport was found on the body of one of the Paris attackers. An article by The New York Times stated: “A Greek official had said earlier that the person carrying the passport had passed through Greece last month along the migrant trail into Europe.”
As the identities of the attackers become clear, European countries may join Germany in closing borders, in fear of terrorists posing as refugees.
The Paris attacks have already cast a spotlight on the future of the Schengen Agreement. The French government closed it’s borders after it became clear that the attacks were coordinated. With ISIS officially taking responsibility for the attacks on Saturday, it remains unclear if the border will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
Immediately after the Paris attacks, the Polish government announced it’s refusal to participate in a refugee relocation program aimed to provide relief to countries with record numbers of refugees (Germany, Hungary, etc.). The program was designed to distribute refugees throughout members of the European Union, thus not burdening any one country with extra refugees. Poland is likely to be joined by other Eastern European countries who may offer reluctance – or refusal- to accept refugees.
Further backlash is likely in store for Syrian refugees in Europe. On Friday night, a massive fire broke out at a refugee camp in Calais, the historic French port city that maintains shipping routes with southern England. It remains unclear, officially, if the fire was the result of retaliation for the Paris attacks. Such acts of ‘revenge’ are likely to occur as the death toll in Paris – latest news reports 129 dead – rises.
A sad irony lies in the fact that these refugees are fleeing from ISIS, the perpetrators of the Paris attacks, and they will likely face European retaliation as a result of their own persecutors.
As vigils are held and candles burn for Paris, France attempts to heal from the worst attack on it’s soil since Nazi occupation. Meanwhile, the way of life, and tourism, in mainland Europe may become much more difficult.