EU Referendum

The European "ideal" crumbles


Border 658-ufk.jpg

There is nothing closer to the hearts of the "colleagues" – assuming they have any – than open borders between EU member states.

It would seem, however, that the enthusiasm is not completely shared by the states themselves. Displaying a rare streak in independence, interior ministers of the member states have just agreed that individual countries should be allowed to close their borders when they deem it necessary.

The agreement applies to Schengen zone members and allows them to re-introduce border controls in emergencies that are deemed to threaten a country's security. And for the first time, an influx of immigrants would be defined as an emergency.

Crucially, the decision puts the ministers at odds with Brussels, which wants to have the final say, with both the EU commission and parliament wanted communitise such decisions.

Even now, though, they may have the final word and the changes must be passed by the EU parliament, which has already indicated it will oppose them in their current form.

EU home affairs commissioner Celcilia Malmstrom was "disappointed by [the] lack of European ambition among member states", although German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich rejected the suggestion that they would mark a step backward for the EU.

The driver for change has been the arrival of refugees from North Africa when the Arab Spring revolutions began last year. Greece, in particular. has been overwhelmed by an influx of illegal immigrants crossing into its territory from Turkey.

Ironically though, the nation which might be most affected by the new rules could be Greece itself. For instance, Sweden is expecting a rise in Greeks taking up resident permits this year, the number having risen from 371 to 767 between 2010 and 2011.

Should the trickle become a flood, Greek passport holders could find border crossing a more difficult process, as economic migrants are generated from within the EU.

Of greater significance, the reluctance of member states fully to commit to open borders augers ill for a full political union. If unrestricted cross-border flows of people are unwelcome, it seems hard to believe that unrestricted cross-border government will be wildly endorsed.