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Schengen Area
Over all borders

Anyone crossing national borders within the EU will no longer encounter turnpikes. Since 1995, the Schengen Agreement has ensured freedom of travel. What if border controls were reintroduced everywhere?

Eric Bonse

Borders
Illustration: © Goethe-Institut / Ricardo Cabral

It is hard to imagine today: anyone who wanted to travel from Germany or Portugal to another EU country before 26 March 1995 had to present his ID card and prepare for long waiting times at the border. Many EU countries did not benefit from the Schengen Agreement, which ensures unlimited freedom of movement, till 2001 or, in the case of new members, 2007.
 
Especially for peripheral countries such as Portugal, the abolition of internal borders was a huge gain. They were no longer “cut off” from the rest of the EU and could significantly expand trade and tourism. However, Schengen also created new EU external borders. This created unforeseen problems, as was shown during the refugee crisis, especially in Greece.
 
The massive influx of migrants through unsecured external borders prompted some EU countries in 2015 to reintroduce controls and partially suspend the Schengen Agreement. This shook a “cornerstone of the European project”, argued the Portuguese newspaper Jornal I.

Fence, turnpikes or other barriers could threaten the Good Friday Agreement peace

Experts from the German Bertelsmann Foundation also raised the alarm: an end to Schengen could bring with it dramatic growth losses for Europe, they said in a study: Losses for the entire EU of 470 billion euros could be expected up to 2025. But so far these warnings have not come true. The Schengen system has not collapsed, and in spite of occasional checks, freedom of travel continues.
 
The dramatic consequences of re-establishing borders in Europe has been demonstrated by the dispute over Brexit and the “backstop” for Ireland. Brussels insists on this emergency solution to prevent a new “hard” border between Ireland and Northern Ireland following the British exit from the EU. Fence, turnpikes or other barriers could threaten the Good Friday Agreement peace.
 
Borders thus remain explosive in Europe, not only for economic reasons. To reintroduce them permanently would be a huge problem not only for Ireland or Portugal.