“Civilised Europeans could indeed transcend boundaries – but the ‘barbarians’ would be kept resolutely beyond them.”

In the Irish Times Arthur Beesley suggests that the outcome of any review of the Schengen Agreement, as recently called for by France and Italy, will lead to tighter controls of external EU borders – at a time when non-EU countries, particularly in northern Africa,  face increasing civil unrest.  From the Irish Times report

…temporary [internal EU] border controls can already be introduced under the existing regime.

All that is required to waive the rules for 30 days is the declaration of a “serious threat” to public order or internal security. However, member states must themselves decide what constitutes such a threat.

These provisions have never been invoked due to fear of tit-for-tat manoeuvres, leading to the implosion of the wider system.

It follows that any new measures are likely to codify in detail how the Schengen system might be suspended in practice and how such suspensions should be lifted as well. First sight of the commission’s thinking will come tomorrow in a communique on migration policy generally, but legislative proposals are some time off as of yet.

That this is messy from a political perspective is obvious, for member states are deeply divided within and among themselves over migration. Moreover, the Franco-Italian case makes clear that there are two sides to every border story.

One thing is certain, however. Any Schengen overhaul will not make it appreciably easier to enter Europe.

In his book Postwar, historian Tony Judt described the Schengen system as Europe’s “greatest transnational achievement” of the 1970s and 1980s but noted the reinforcement of its external frontiers. “Civilised Europeans could indeed transcend boundaries – but the ‘barbarians’ would be kept resolutely beyond them.” Quite.

We might find out tomorrow, Wednesday 4 May.  In the meantime, whatever happened to that reasoned discussion on Ireland, or the UK, joining Schengen?