Escalating Migrant Influx Challenges Schengen Zone’s Unity and Stability

The Resurgence of Migrant Arrival in Italy: A Stress Test for Schengen Agreement

The escalating number of migrants reaching Italy has instigated apprehensions regarding the continuity of the free movement principle within the European Union, a core tenet of the Schengen Zone.

Austria’s Response to the Crisis

Austria has voiced intentions to reinstitute border controls with Italy, given the arrival of over 130,000 migrants in Italy this year alone. Both nations are integral components of the Schengen Zone, the realization of passport-free travel and one of the EU’s crowning achievements.

France has also intensified its border controls with Italy, augmenting border security through increased policing and the deployment of drones, to preempt potential migration into French territories.

Luca Zaia, a prominent member of the League party, states, “The temporary suspension of Schengen is a strategy to avoid migrant arrivals on their soil,” highlighting the mounting tension within the region.

Italy’s Struggle with Repatriation

The League, being a crucial part of the governing coalition in Italy, has raised concerns about Italy’s inability to repatriate migrants effectively. The closure of borders underscores Europe’s incapacitation to establish a cohesive process to manage or evenly distribute the migrant burden among member states.

Zaia elucidated that the ongoing inability to repatriate large numbers and the malfunctioning relocation system are stark illustrations of the prevailing inadequacies in managing the crisis.

A Rising Exodus

Italy is bracing for the arrival of approximately 200,000 migrants by the year’s end, with Zaia describing the situation as a “biblical exodus.”

The constant alarms from Rome since 2015 emphasize that the unaddressed issues of illegal migration pose significant risks to the Schengen Zone’s sustainability. Brussels has supported substantial funding increments for border agencies, asserting the necessity of robust protection of the EU’s external boundaries to safeguard the passport-free travel area.

Deep Divisions and Schengen’s Stability

The much-anticipated reforms in the EU’s asylum rules remain stalled due to profound disagreements among member states. Nancy Faeser, the German interior minister, echoes the sentiments of many by expressing concerns about the stability of the Schengen agreement, advocating for enhanced border controls and stricter EU measures to curb migrants’ influx.

Germany’s ongoing border controls with Austria, since the mass migration wave of 2015, reflect the persistent apprehensions and the calls for extended checks along the country’s eastern border underline the growing concerns.

A Balance Between Control and Freedom

The European Union is grappling with the contentious return of border controls, with the temporary implementations during the 2015 crisis and the coronavirus pandemic raising questions about the viability of the Schengen agreement. Emmanuel Macron has previously highlighted the profound implications of the “death of Schengen” on the European Project.

The Road Ahead: Harmonization and Negotiations

The European Commission is gearing up for imminent negotiations on the Schengen Code, aiming to reach a consensus on the suspension rules and fortify unity among the member states. However, divergent views and priorities continue to challenge the harmonization efforts.

Pope Francis has called for compassion and acceptance towards migrants, emphasizing the inherent risks they face and urging governments to see them as seekers of refuge rather than invaders, in his recent visit to France’s Mediterranean port of Marseille.