Over the past three months, we’ve looked on as the Schengen Agreement - under which 28 EU nations operate open borders - unravels in the face of the overwhelming flow of refugees fleeing the war-torn Mid-East.
The disintegration of Europe’s passport free travel dream began in early September when Hungarian PM Viktor Orban constructed a razor wire fence along his country's border with Serbia. Serbia isn't a Schengen member country, but the fence marked a turning point in the way Europeans thought about the worsening migrant crisis. Orban insisted that the only way to preserve Europe's "Christian heritage" was to limit the flow of Syrian asylum seekers into the bloc and in a series of fence clashes with refugees, Orban proved he was serious by deploying water cannons and tear gas.
Serbia then promptly diverted the people flow into Croatia which is doing its best to handle the influx. From Croatia, the migrants make their way north through Slovenia into Austria and, ultimately, into Germany.
Earlier this month, Slovenia expressed concerns that if Austria and Germany took steps to slow migrants down (steps like beefed up border checks), tens if not hundreds of thousands of refugees could get stuck. With winter fast approaching, Slovenian authorities warned that the country did not have the capacity to accommodate the asylum seekers, setting up the potential for a humanitartian crisis. So, Slovenia built a fence along its border with Croatia. Once again, Croatia is not (yet) a Schenghen member but the die as they say, was cast.
Sure enough just days later, Austria began to build a mesh barrier on its border with Slovenia - it was the first fence between two members of the passport-free zone.
Meanwhile, Germany received permission from the European Commission to extend "temporary" border controls beyond an initial two month trial period and Sweden began hauling migrants without proper papers off of trains.
All of the above was before the Paris attacks.
The ISIS assault on France exacerbated anti-migrant sentiment and once it became apparent that "mastermind" Abdelhamid Abaaoud likely traveled from Syria to various European states and back again without being detected (French authorities didn't even know he was in Paris), the stage was set for a serious rethink of the passport-free ideal that's the veritable cornerstone of the European dream.
On Friday we noted that Schengen is now being seriously reconsidered. "The European Commission has agreed to present, by the end of the year, a plan to reform the Schengen border code to allow systematic and obligatory checks at all external borders for all travellers, including those who benefit from free movement," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told the press, after an emergency meeting.
But it may go beyond that.
According to The Times, European governments are holding "secret" talks over removing borderless travel within region. As Bloomberg reports, "if Schengen is dismantled, it’s likely to break up into several geographical blocs."
A Dutch plan, for instance, "envisages [a] borderless bloc of Austria, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Netherlands with border checks for movement between other EU countries including France, Italy, Poland and Greece."
The current system is "simply not working," on unnamed diplomat says.
To be sure, there will be those who resist the idea of abandoning the principle on which the EU was built, but with each incremental attack and/or "imminent threat" (see Brussels overnight), support for an "overhaul" or even a wholesale abandonment of the agreement will grow until the idea of a European "union" becomes a relic of a bygone, pre-ISIS era.