Making the right move or moving away from free movement?

UEF policy paper

, by Andrey Kovatchev

Making the right move or moving away from free movement?

The tectonic changes in Europe’s neighbourhood surely mean that the European Union has to adapt its policies to the new challenges that surround us. This is especially true for our external affairs, but the Arab spring surely has an imprint on the internal regulations of our Union.

The Union of European Federalists follow with concern the reaction of some EU member states, most recently Denmark, which are looking at the current wave of migration not as an opportunity to bring more coordination to our immigration and asylum policies, but as an existential threat to their national security. As a result of this nation-centric approach some member states are discussing reintroduction of border controls within the Schengen area. In the view of the UEF this approach is inherently inappropriate and disproportionate and cannot yield positive results neither for the countries in question, nor for the other fellow member states. Any unilateral decision to abolish free movement contradicts both the letter and the spirit of the Schengen Agreement and our basic values.

It is our view that EU member states should adhere to the values of our Union, among which solidarity and shared responsibility. In this respect, we deplore the UK government’s decision not to share the burden with Italy, Malta and France by helping out those who are fleeing the civil war in Libya.

Despite these troubling decisions the UEF does not consider that the current situation may be the end of free movement in Europe. Nevertheless, we are deeply worried that the leaders of Europe are ever more susceptible to the populist cries and their nation-centrism, while disregarding the tools that United Europe can offer.

The situation on our southern borders that we face today is beyond any doubt a challenge, but it is very much so due to political escalation, rather than a fully-fledged crisis. Several tens of thousands immigrants could be a crisis for one country, but if we stay united and take our fair share of responsibility and solidarity, it cannot be a crisis for Europe! Today it is not immigration that is the problem, but the lack of proper burden-sharing mechanisms between member states.

Europe’s role has always been one of a leader, which can put forward solutions at times of despair and propose mechanisms that were never there before. Sadly, in the last months we made a step backwards and some leaders have initiated steps that could be qualified as integration reversal.

The UEF considers unacceptable debating how to re-erect the borders between the EU member states. Instead, it is our view that European institutions should focus their efforts on what they have committed themselves to - designing an efficient system within the Schengen agreement that would fill the current loopholes.

The UEF commends the reiteration of the Council on 12 May 2011 to adhere to its commitment for establishing a Common European Asylum System by 2012. We also believe that a strengthened FRONTEX with more financial and human resources will help improve the security of our external borders and will be of help in unexpected scenarios. Pooling and sharing our expertise in this field, like in many others, will make our Union stronger and help us deal with future challenges more effectively without the unnecessary over-politicizing that we witness today. We can also think of linking our reinvigorated Neighbourhood Policy to the capacity of the partner states to fulfil their readmission obligations.

United Europe should not be confused with a pick-and-chose model, where one picks what they like at the moment but reject all other options. The EU member states have a duty to all citizens and peoples of Europe and cannot simply blame it on the EU if something does not work or makes them temporarily uncomfortable. Our external borders are no longer a responsibility of the respective member sate, but a shared responsibility for our Union.

Only a bad workman blames it tools! In the UEF we believe that the EU is the best tool we have to resist downturns and create opportunities where there has previously been regulatory or political vacuum.

This is why the UEF calls on all EU member states to strongly back the European Commission, which should be the avant-garde in proposing new measures how to preserve and build upon what European integration has already achieved. In this respect, we found alarming the Commission suggestion in its Communication on migration from 04.05.2011 to put in place a mechanism “to allow the Union to handle situations where either a Member State is not fulfilling its obligations to control its section of the external border, or where a particular portion of the external border comes under unexpected and heavy pressure due to external events”.

Freedom of movement is one of our basic principles and main achievements of the EU and we have to defend it at all costs. The UEF therefore urges the Commission not to create new mechanisms that would not allow more room for member states to act without consultation and agreement from the European Commission and the other member states. The EC should adopt a tough stance to defend the civic rights of our citizens and propose proper measures not to allow member states to act as if Europe does not exist any more.

If sometimes we do not succeed, we should not redefine success. Our evolving environment makes the necessities of integration a moving target and we have to adapt our efforts to it.

With the case of Schengen, as clearly shown during the European Parliament Plenary debate in Strasbourg in May, we should finish what was left unfinished and build upon what we have already achieved with the free movement in the EU.

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. As with other challenges, the European Federalists see opportunities in the current situation. It comes to once again show that we need further enhancement of the integration and our common policies. But why wait for the challenge when the solution has already been on the table long ago. United Europe should not bend to external crises and allow populists to feed the differences between member states. Instead, we should use all opportunities to nurture our optimism for a common prosperous European future and see the possibilities that lie before a more federated Europe!

The Union of European Federalists (UEF), a non-governmental and supranational organisation, is dedicated to the promotion of a democratic and federal Europe. It aims to bring together citizens who desire to work for the federal unity of Europe, act as a catalyst of democratic forces in Europe, and stimulate public debate on the political content of the ’European project’.

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