Pierre Moscovici presenting winter economic forecast 2016 on February 4, 2016 / ec.europa.eu

The discussions about the costs of border controls have risen in the EU. While no reliable figures are available, the European Commission kept on legally extending controls, a move which could isolate Greece in the Schengen area.

After six out of 26 Schengen member states reintroduced internal border controls, the costs of the shrinking passport-free zone are ever more discussed intensively in Europe.

“We don’t have those figures,” the EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici said on Thursday (February 4), when asked by journalists to quantify the additional costs of reintroducing border controls.

On the day before, the economic planning agency of the French government, France Stratégie, had warned that the re-establishment of controls within the EU could reduce the Union’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 100 billion euros.

When presenting the latest economic forecast for the EU, Moscovici admitted that “the European economy would face high costs if Schengen would be put at risk,” but refused to go into details.

The reason for this reluctance might be linked to the fact that Brussels is currently performing a challenging balancing act: Trying to preserve the endangered free movement within the Schengen zone and at the same time handling the pressure of certain member states, who wish to extend border controls.

Pierre Moscovici presenting winter economic forecast 2016 on February 4, 2016 / ec.europa.eu

Moscovici: “European economy would face high costs if Schengen put at risk”

Guessing game about costs

The spokespersons of the Commission repeatedly refused to present any estimation on what price Europe will have to pay for having free-passport travelling restricted.

Surprisingly, on January 15, the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, did not hesitate to come forward with concrete figures during his New Year’s press conference.

Jean-Claude Juncker at annual New Year's reception of European Commission on January 12, 2016 / ec.europa.eu

Jean-Claude Juncker at annual New Year’s reception 2016

To illustrate his pro-Schengen appeal, Juncker gave some examples of cost calculations.

“The closing of the bridge between Denmark and Sweden has reached a loss of 300 million euros,” he said and added that traffic jams at the Danish-German border would cost another 90 million euros.

“All in all, if border controls are maintained at the current level, this will cost the EU 3 billion euros,” Juncker argued. Juncker was quoting a study made by the Danish think tank Cepos on behalf of the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Öresund bridge in Advent 2015 / L.E Daniel Larsson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Öresund bridge in Advent 2015: Steel between Denmark and Sweden

But both Juncker and the newspaper got the figures wrong, a spokesperson of Cepos told Euranet Plus.

The amount of 300 million euros referred to the estimated yearly costs of borders controls on both sides of the Swedish-Danish bridge, Otto Brons-Peterson from Cepos wrote in a statement.

Since so far borders are only being controlled one way, the yearly costs would presumably only be around 150 million euros.

Then the 90 million euros area estimation was for full border controls between Denmark and Germany, but currently these costs are by far lower since border police forces only check travelers occasionally.

Jean-Claude Juncker at annual New Year's reception of European Commission / ec.europa.eu

Juncker: “Traffic jams at Danish-German border would cost 90 million euros”

Counterproductive investments

According to the Commission ,1.7 million Europeans are crossing the EU borders every day to go to work.

But the side effects of strengthening border controls are difficult to estimate.

Putting more money into extended border controls would also be in conflict with other European investments, such as the support for European cross-border transport projects.

The EU is to spend more than 26 billion euros up to 2020 to establish nine pan-European transport corridors and modernize infrastructure on this axis.

The former Belgian member of the European Parliament (MEP), Mathieu Grosch, one of the coordinators of this project, says that investing such an amount to facilitate trans-border mobility while restoring controls at the same time is nonsense. (audio in French)

“There are nine corridors connecting the European countries. These corridors connect capitals to one another and ports to capitals. And this is made in a trans-border spirit,” Grosch told the Belgian Euranet Plus member and broadcaster RTBF.

“Our purpose, with more than 20 billion euros funds, is to give priority to trans-border sections. And [in our mission] we are always in the same discussion: facilitate crossing points, investing with member states both in technologies and infrastructures. So, these measures to close borders, it is exactly the contrary of what we are doing.”

Greek borders in focus

Despite underlining the wish to preserve the Schengen zone, the Commission also got on the way the procedure to allow member states to extend border controls.

On Tuesday (February 2) the European Commission adopted a Schengen evaluation report on Greece. The report, which is not public, says that Greece is seriously neglecting its obligations under the Schengen rules.

Although the Greek government protested against the conclusions, arguing many things have changed in the last months, the Commission did not review its position and will now come forward with recommendations to be submitted to the Council.

 

The plan is not to push Greece out of the Eurozone, EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said this week in Strasbourg.

Thus, the adoption of the report is one step of the procedure allowing Schengen member states to extend their border controls on a longer term.

At the end of the day, these controls could isolate Greece, which has no direct border with Schengen states. (audio in Greek)

“There is a risk we could trap ourselves, there is a risk that the real European border will soon be at the Former Republic of Macedonia,” Evangelos Venizelos, member of the Greek Parliament and former leader of the Pasok party, said.

“There is a risk that we could find ourselves with thousands of people here, refugees and migrants without papers, that we cannot manage. We don’t have clear priorities and goals. Greece will become a second-class EU country. We will have been judged as an unreliable and inadequate EU country.”

Under the current EU laws it is legally not possible to exclude Greece, said Urs Pötzsch from the Centre for European Policy (CEP) in Germany, who also sees the risk that Greece could be isolated from the rest of the passport-free travel area. (audio in German)

“In my opinion it is legally impossible to exclude Greece from the Schengen framework. But in applying the derogations like the reintroduction of border controls, it is in reality possible to isolate Greece within the Schengen area. And persons who want to enter from Greece to other Schengen countries are forced to accept border controls,” Pötzsch said.

Moving defense line up north

Two weeks ago, the Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar came up with the idea to support Macedonia in beefing up controls at its borders with Greece.

The plan got the support of Commission President Juncker and was discussed among the EU interior ministers at a meeting in Amsterdam on January 25.

Informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Amsterdam on January 25, 2016 / tvnewsroom.consilium.europa.eu/

Informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Amsterdam

After the meeting, the Slovenian Interior Minister Vesna Györkös Žnidar rejected the idea that this was part of a plan to push Greece out of Schengen. (audio in Slovenian)

“I don’t see this as a threat of excluding Greece from Schengen. It is just another element of efforts to exert political pressure on countries that have failed to protect the bloc’s external borders,” Znidar told Slovenian RTV.

Hungary’s Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Szijjarto also supported the idea of getting Greece’s northern borders protected more effectively.

After having met with his Croatian counterpart Miro Kovac, Szijjarto said that if the ‘line of defense’ cannot be ensured at Greece’s southern border, then it must be set up at borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Both ministers said that they ready to improve relations between Hungary and Croatia.

Informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Amsterdam on January 25, 2016 / tvnewsroom.consilium.europa.eu/

‘Without coordination, we can’t have any solutions’

The new conservative government of Croatia will coordinate its migration policy with its neighbouring countries, Kovac announced.

The fence built by the Hungarian government had caused tensions between Budapest and Zagreb last year as well as criticism from the former Croatian government about the Slovenian handling of the crisis. (audio in Croatian)

“With regards to the refugee influx, we will intensify cooperation with our colleagues in Slovenia and Serbia and we’re going to coordinate with them for the benefit of Croatia, but the whole Central and Eastern Europe as well,” Kovac said.

“Without coordination, we can’t have any solutions. But we agree with our friends in Hungary: We can deal with this problem in the short term by protecting our own individual borders, but the long term solution is possible only at the European level. We need a solution that will be binding for all the member states,” Kovac said.

“And it needs to be supported by the biggest EU countries, especially our friends in Germany. I believe that Schengen will survive and that the EU will remain compact.”

  • This report was compiled with the help of the Euranet Plus members RTBF (Belgium), ams (Germany), RTV SLO (Slovenia), HRT (Croatia) and Skaï Radio (Greece)
  • Author: Daniele Weber, Euranet Plus News Agency
  • Further image credits: (middle 1 & 2) Pierre Moscovici presenting winter economic forecast 2016 on February 4, 2016 / ec.europa.eu | (middle 3 & 5) Jean-Claude Juncker at annual New Year’s reception of European Commission / ec.europa.eu | (middle 4) Öresund bridge in Advent 2015 / L.E Daniel Larsson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 | (middle 5 & 6) Informal meeting of EU interior ministers in Amsterdam on January 25, 2016 / tvnewsroom.consilium.europa.eu/