Denmark plans to re-introduce custom inspections while France and Italy are calling for borderless travel to be reconsidered. All signs point to a dangerous re-nationalization of Europe, according to DW's Bernd Riegert.
Under pressure from right-wing populists, the Danish government has decided to reintroduce customs inspections and surveillance at its borders. Meanwhile, Europe's interior ministers have not made a peep of protest.
From a purely legal perspective, there is not much that can be done since Copenhagen plans to only post custom officials at its borders and not police officers. Furthermore, Denmark enjoys a special status within the Schengen zone. Although the Scandinavian nation has implemented Schengen in practice, it is not a full fledged party to the treaty. The impact of Copenhagen's decision to introduce border controls is fatal.
France, Italy as well as Germany will now feel emboldened to loosen the Schengen rules and temporarily reintroduce border controls whenever it seems convenient. Despite EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström's claims to the contrary, EU member states are undermining a symbolic pillar of European unity. Travel without passport inspection is a fundamental aspect of the European Union's identity.
Re-nationalization of Europe
Unfortunately, the scuffle over Schengen is just one link in a chain of conflicts that could result in the respective nation-states pursuing their own interests at the expense of what they have in common within the EU.
Re-nationalization is the key word here. The EU and the eurozone face an uphill battle over the simmering debt crisis. And it will not take much for the frustrated lending states to decide to end their solidarity with the borrowing states.
Finland is the trendsetter. Right-wing populists, a serious political force in Helsinki after major electoral gains, reject the bailout fund for indebted Southern European nations. Meanwhile, resistance to bailouts has spread to other capitals including Berlin.
National interests also reign in the foreign policy of EU states where common action is virtually non-existent. France pressed ahead in the Libyan conflict by advocating the use of force early on. However, Germany abstained when military intervention came to a vote in the UN Security Council, separating itself from its European partners.
The EU has no recognizable common policy vis-à-vis the Arab world. For years, there has been a standstill over refugee and asylum policy since none of the national governments are willing to give up areas of competence. The tragedy is that the phenomenon of re-nationalization has gained momentum since the Lisbon Treaty was ratified, a document drafted to seal European integration.
Nation-states call the shots
In Brussels, the representatives of the national governments determine the agenda. The democratically elected European Parliament has been sidelined. The president of the European Council and his foreign minister have low profiles. And euro-skeptic right-wing populists are making headway in an increasing number of member states: Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, France, Italy and Hungary.
After the Schengen debacle one has to fear that re-nationalization will soon strike the common market, the core of the European Union. The free movement of goods, capital, services and people could soon become a thorn in the side of euro-skeptic groups. Why not protect your own economy from foreign competitors? Perhaps by re-introducing customs? That would set Europe back by decades but could score some political points in some national elections.
Author: Bernd Riegert/ sk
Editor: Chuck Penfold