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‘A Europe without borders requires political courage’

In recent years, freedom of movement within Europe has come under increasing pressure as a result of transboundary crisis situations. In his inaugural lecture on 22 October, Professor Jorrit Rijpma argues that what is needed is even closer cooperation to provide the best protection.

In his inaugural lecture (Friday 22 October at 4.15 pm, watch via the livestream), Rijpma talks about the state of the Schengen Area; an area comprising European countries that have agreed on free movement of persons between their countries. In public debates in recent years, calls have frequently been heard to close these borders. In response to terrorist attacks, an influx of refugees and the coronavirus outbreak, States have started to argue for tighter controls at their own borders. And individual Member States have regularly introduced (temporary) border controls to deal with these threats, thus restricting free movement

Decisive action

If you want to solve these issues in the long term, then decisive action is required according to the professor of European Law. For example, a common asylum policy and more extensive cooperation between the police and the  judiciary. In Rijpma’s words: ‘deeper integration is required’.

European citizens in 2018 still saw Schengen as one of the greatest successes in European integration. And rightly so.’

Rijpma believes that such measures are ‘potentially far more effective’ in dealing with concerns of Member States than the reintroduction of border controls. But he warns that this requires political courage on the part of the Member States, as well as a sense of responsibility and solidarity.  If they fail to reach a joint solution, it is possible that European Member States might withdraw from the Schengen Agreement. The economic cost of the demise of Schengen would be huge, Rijpma says. ‘European citizens in 2018 still saw Schengen as one of the greatest successes in European integration. And rightly so.’

Exchange of criminals

In his inaugural lecture, Rijpma reflects on the development of the area of justice within the European Union – the policy area related to European cooperation in the area of justice and home affairs. Though traditionally, these matters were regulated by the national governments, in recent decades it seems that the European Union has found itself becoming increasingly involved in these policy areas. In his inaugural lecture, Rijpma notes the important dates along the timeline of the EU. 1985: European countries (not the UK) agree in Schengen to remove checks on the internal borders; 1986: the internal market is defined in the Single European Act as an area without frontiers; 1992: The Treaty of Maastricht gives all EU citizens the rights to move and reside freely within the EU; and 1997: the Treaty of Amsterdam provides for the integration of the Schengen rules into the framework of EU law.

Rijpma demonstrates that the area of justice is closely connected to the rights of citizens to move and reside freely within the EU. Because where international trade flourishes and citizens are increasingly residing in neighbouring countries, international agreements will inevitably have to be established on matters such as the exchange of criminals and mutual recognition of traffic fines.  Thus, slowly but surely, the European Union has entered this area of policy.

Unconditional respect for the rule of law

Finally, Rijpma warns of antidemocratic developments in countries such as Poland and Hungary. According to the professor, the area of justice can only function properly if the EU Member States have ‘unconditional respect’ for fundamental rights and the rule of law. ‘When certain countries […] no longer conform to agreements which – given all their weakness – have contributed significantly to stability and prosperity, then their departure from the Union is no longer inconceivable. The Brexit serves as a painful example.’ 

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