A new study estimates that the abolishment of the Schengen Agreement and re-establishment of internal border controls in Europe would cost around €2 billion–€3 billion in annual operating costs.
Border controls could also cost the current Schengen nations anywhere between €0.1 billion–€20 billion in fixed one-off costs, depending on the scenario resulting from the end of the Schengen Agreement. The first scenario — a two-year border introduction in all Schengen states — estimates that the fixed costs could be in the range of €58.6–€108.6 million. The second scenario — the permanent suspension of the Schengen Agreement in all countries — estimates that the fixed costs could be in the range of €7.41 billion–€19.76 billion.
RAND says that the economic estimates provided by RAND Europe took into account the potential costs of physically re-building borders among Schengen states, the direct administrative costs associated with the management of re-introduced borders, and indirect costs stemming from disruptions to trade and travel.
The study, The Costs of Non-Schengen, was commissioned by European Parliament to investigate the economic, political and social costs of ending the Schengen Agreement, the 1985 document that led to the ending of most border controls across twenty-six nations. This followed the temporary establishment of border controls in some EU member states in 2015 to manage the uncontrolled flow of migrants within the Schengen Area.
Part of the social costs explored by the study looked at the association between the 2007 enlargement where new Schengen states (Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) entered the area and the different types of crime within the Schengen area. It was found that levels of crime, such as burglary, car theft, theft and robberies, had decreased since the 2007 Schengen enlargement, with some evidence on positive associations between the abolition of internal border controls and the volume of seized drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.
A key aspect of the political costs examined by RAND Europe focused on the trust of citizens living in the Schengen Area. The study’s findings suggested an upward trend in European citizens’ trust in national and European institutions following the Schengen enlargement in 2007. Trust is seen as an important factor in making the Schengen Agreement work for countries in the area.
Marco Hafner, a research leader at RAND Europe and the report’s main author, says: “The recent influx of migrants and refugees to Europe has put the existing Schengen system under strain. However, from the study, it is clear that a re-establishment of border controls would come at a high economic cost and undo much of the positive social and political developments made in the past ten years.”
In order to manage the influx of migrants and refugees, the study suggests a number of recommendations focused on improving the existing Schengen Agreement. These include:
- A reform of the EU asylum system, improvements in EU return policy and strengthened cooperation with transit countries and countries of origin to lower pressure on the EU’s external borders.
- Pressing ahead with the establishment of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and more effective external border checks through initiatives such as systematic checks on EU nationals to support external border controls.
- Improvements in information collection and sharing across agencies and member states to support existing police and judicial cooperation arrangements.
Hafner continues: “Our recommendations to improve the Schengen Agreement focus on a reform of the EU asylum system, external border control and further cooperation across the different countries’ law enforcement agencies. This would help to manage the high levels of migration to Europe, while ensuring that the positive benefits from the Schengen Area remain.”
The Schengen Agreement
The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985 between five EU member states (Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) to work toward a gradual abolition of checks at their common borders, with the actual removal of border controls taking place in 1995.
In the 1990s, the Schengen area was expanded to include every EU member state except the United Kingdom and Ireland who have not opted in (thirteen in total). Similarly, the member states which joined as part of the 2004 accession wave, with the exception of Cyprus, have become members of the Schengen Area (nine in total). Non-EU countries can also become members of the Schengen Area, with four doing so already: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. In total, the current Schengen Area includes twenty-six countries, of which twenty-two are EU member states. The newest member states, Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia, have not joined the Schengen Area yet.
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