Paris attacks highlight need to end the folly of a borderless Europe
There are, in principle, two fixes. Repair Schengen; or revert to national systems. Both work. The first would be economically efficient but is politically hard to do. The second is politically easier to do, but would constitute a spending shock of macroeconomic scale for many countries.
Frontex does not have the resources even to do its limited job properly, let alone to act as a federal-level border control unit, which is what is really needed. America has the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which are part of the Department of Homeland Security, and the US Coast Guard, which is a branch of the armed forces. In Europe, we rely on civil servants passing information to each other. Or not — as it turned out.
The EU will tinker with Schengen, but not fix it. Sound familiar? When the eurozone crisis started, a few bold measures would have fixed it. But there was no political majority for a federal-level solution to the banking and sovereign debt crises. Why would EU leaders do the right thing for Schengen, when they failed to do it for the eurozone?
The alternative would be to allow Schengen to wither away, to revert to national systems, and implement the necessary changes at home. This is what I expect will happen. It is not a bad option. It will work because member states have their base infrastructure still in place. It is, of course, terribly inefficient for 26 countries to operate their own intelligence networks, and to police their internal borders. The length of the borders around France and Germany alone is about 3,000km each. The external land border of the whole Schengen area is only 8,800km. If Humpty-Dumpty falls apart, there will be lot of bits and pieces, and lots of protruding edges. The internal borders would return.
Before the attacks, they were almost invisible. On the train from Brussels to Paris, you would be hard pressed to notice when you changed countries. On the motorway, a derelict frontier post would have reminded you that there was once a border, followed by a country sign encircled by the twelve EU stars. Schengen turned the Molenbeek district of Brussels and Saint Denis in northern Paris into adjacent neighbourhoods. The terrorists led the life of commuters, living in Brussels and working in Paris.
Since we are not going to fix Schengen, let us return to national border controls. It will be very expensive, especially for France, which has yet to build up a fully functional domestic security service.
It will be of an order of magnitude to derail any budget plan and will rouse the ire of eurozone bean counters. France should invoke, unilaterally if need be, the clause of an exceptional circumstance under European budget rules.
The overriding goal has to be to preserve one of the most important common goods the EU can provide to its citizens: a modern and professional level of internal security. Schengen cannot deliver this. But the member states still can, and should be allowed to do this.