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EU IDEA – Schengen under Pressure: Differentiation or Disintegration?

EU IDEA Research Paper No 7

by: Marie De Somer, Funda Tekin and Vittoria Meissner

The Schengen area represents a textbook example of diffe­ren­tiation in the European Union. Not all EU member states are part of Schengen whilst others have opt-outs. At the same time, the common free movement area also embeds several non-EU states. Aside from the varied membership of the Schengen system, diffe­ren­tiation can also be observed in the internal rules that govern it. These rules, and parti­cu­larly the option to reintroduce internal border controls, provide states with a failsafe option to return to national borders in high-pressure situa­tions. As the paper argues, Schengen’s diffe­ren­tiated integration mecha­nisms, and the flexi­bility they provide, are part of its strength. They enable joint solutions to shared cross-border challenges in this highly sover­eig­n­ty­sen­sitive area. However, there are risks attached to this flexi­bility as well. As recent crises highlight, an over-use of the system’s flexi­bility risks instilling fragmen­tation among states or can lead to situa­tions where temporary controls become semi-permanent. Against this background, the paper proposes a set of three recom­men­da­tions: (i) streng­t­hening coordi­nation mecha­nisms, (ii) streng­t­hening common rules around the reintro­duction of internal controls and (iii) promoting a stronger use of the Commission’s control and coordi­nation competences.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 822622.