A Europe without border controls - is that even possible anymore? Wichard Woyke says the answer is yes. The problem is with asylum regulations, he says, not open borders.
This week, the Schengen Agreement will mark its 30th anniversary at a time when the concept of open borders within the EU has never been so strongly criticized. Migrants are traveling through Europe, and officials often have no way of tracking who has crossed which border. On Wednesday, the interior ministers of several EU states will meet in Luxembourg to discuss the future of Schengen. DW spoke with political scientist Wichard Woyke about the challenges facing this landmark agreement.
Deutsche Welle: Is the Schengen Agreement even still relevant in its current form?
Woyke says the Schengen Agreement remains relevant
Wichard Woyke: The Schengen Agreement is not an "agreement" anymore in the original sense. Rather, it's been part of EU law since 1999. And EU law supersedes national law. That means that these matters have to be addressed by the EU.
Does that mean it should be reformed?
That could be difficult. We've seen that it works. We recently had the European Council decide to impose a quota system for the distribution of refugees by a clear majority - against the express wishes of some member states. New regulations would therefore not achieve anything.
Hungary, for example, is letting refugees travel on without first registering them. According to the Dublin Agreement, though, Hungary should be registering them and processing their asylum applications. Is this agreement more or less dead?
Well, it's at least been overridden to a large extent. Let's not forget that Germany is partly responsible. As generous as the gesture on the part of Angela Merkel was to allow refugees from Hungary enter Germany, it had the effect that registration was not being carried out in the EU country that these refugees first entered. The question now is whether the Dublin Agreement is even tenable given the large numbers of people entering the bloc, and I have my doubts.
Is Schengen becoming a threat to the European Union simply because of the large numbers of people that are freely moving?
No, I don't think so. Just the opposite: The very thing that Schengen stands for - freedom of movement - is a huge advantage. You can cross borders without being checked from Malaga up to the North Pole. Schengen is Europe's greatest achievement, and this view is also shared among the countries that have joined the bloc since 2004. People will do everything they can to protect this achievement. I don't think it's possible that it could end up tearing the EU apart.
You mentioned the generosity of the German government, but what risks does this generosity contain?
One risk is that the gesture could be interpreted by other migrants as a sign that they should also come to Germany. Our ability to accept asylum-seekers is not unlimited. There may not be a theoretical limit, but there is a practical one. And, as I said, there is the danger that the Dublin Agreement will in part be overridden because Germany did not stick to the regulations.
Wichard Woyke is a political scientist. He taught European politics at the University of Münster and is considered to be one of Germany's premier experts on international politics.