French President Emmanuel Macron has called for the renegotiation of the Schengen agreement, which guarantees the right to free movement between the signatory countries in Europe. Paired with some of his other statements, this demonstrates how hypocritical France's head of state can really be.
The European nations participating in the Schengen agreement are all the European Union member states, with the notable exceptions of Cyprus, Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria (these countries are required to open their borders to EU citizens, but the reverse does not apply until the European Council finds an agreement), as well as the United Kingdom and Ireland (which have opted-out of the EU requirement to join the Schengen agreement). In the case of the latter, this means that EU citizens (whose home countries are a part of the Schengen area) can freely move to the UK and Ireland but may be subjected to border checks. Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland, and Norway are the four non-EU countries participating in the Schengen area. Monaco is a de-facto member, and San Marino and the Vatican both already practice open borders.
Macron's comments came up while speaking in front of 320 journalists as part of his long-awaited response to nearly six months of yellow vest protests and suggested a list of reforms to address the concerns raised by the popular movement. “Common borders, Schengen, the Dublin accords don’t work anymore”, he said, responding to the challenges posed by a large number of refugees coming to Europe from Middle Eastern war zones since 2015.
Macron did say that he could envision a reformed Schengen area with fewer participating nations.
The V4--Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary--had already been a target of Macron's rhetoric on this issue. During an informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria last September, the French president indicated that a "Europe à la carte", where you could pick and choose your favourite EU policies, does not exist. This was in response to the the V4 policy of refusing to accept refugees.
The notable difference between the European Commission's refugee relocation scheme and freedom of movement under the Schengen agreement is that one is binding, while the other is not. No matter your views on the issue of immigration, the fact that Germany and Sweden have been disproportionately permissive in their migration policy does not necessitate a positive response from any of the Visegrád four: just because Berlin takes millions of refugees doesn't mean Budapest has to, as well.
Interestingly, it is the Central and Eastern European countries that have been respecting their part of existing agreements, while countries like France, Germany, or Denmark, have been constantly opting out of Schengen obligations. To have Macron say that you can't have "Europe à la carte" while demanding a renegotiation of the Schengen Treaty is the tip of the hypocrisy iceberg.
The Schengen area happens to be one of the very few good core principles of this European Union. The free movement of capital, goods, and labour is essential for many economic sectors of the continent and these policies should be defended. Re-instituting border controls in an era of fast-track movement of the economy would be counterproductive. It is extremely telling that the political class that was constantly asserting that reconsidering Schengen would be populist, racist, and nationalist is now doing exactly that. It begs the question: who is really dismantling Europe?
Let the shifting of the goal posts begin.
Pictures are Creative Commons.