Day by day, the face of Europe is dramatically changing as terrorist threats and out-of-control immigration destroy the EU’s idyll of passport-free travel between its member states.
Border checks are springing up across the bloc in a scramble by governments to restore their sovereignty and bolster national security to safeguard citizens.
A detailed map compiled by the Mail shows how 11 nations in the Schengen area — from France to Slovakia, Sweden to Germany — have re-instated long-abandoned border restrictions including identity vetting, passport checks, police interviews, static checkpoints and vehicle inspections.
According to an EU report on the new controls seen by the Mail, many countries believe border checks are essential to stop ‘infiltration’ by Middle Eastern terrorists posing as migrants, and growing strains on overwhelmed asylum reception centres.
Italy, for example, ramped up border checks this month with neighbouring Slovenia, blaming the Israel-Hamas war for an ‘increased threat of violence within the EU’ and the risk of terrorist-migrants arriving amid ‘constant migratory pressure from land and sea’.
Many countries believe border checks are essential to stop ‘infiltration’ by Middle Eastern terrorists posing as migrants, and growing strains on overwhelmed asylum reception centres
France has reintroduced checks at all its internal EU borders. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that France was looking for ‘decisions in a Europe surrounded by unstable lands’
Slovenia, in turn, announced checks on its borders with Hungary and Croatia, saying it faced much the same problems as Italy, as well as ‘threats to public order and internal security’.
The border clampdowns fly in the face of the Schengen treaty introduced nearly 40 years ago to allow free movement of travellers between France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Named after the area where Luxembourg, France and Germany converge — and where the treaty was signed — it soon covered the majority of countries in the rapidly expanding EU.
Schengen rules allow passport-free travel between member states — without identity checks — to anyone entering the EU until they leave.
Although championed by Brussels bureaucrats and politicians as ‘the crown jewel of European integration’, the policy has been blamed for acting as a lure for migrants and terrorists.
Last year, a third of a million asylum-seekers, refugees and illegal migrants successfully entered the EU through its external borders and were then — under Schengen rules — able to travel on wherever they wished inside the bloc.
The Mail has monitored migrants both on their arrival in the EU and during their onward journeys. This summer we tracked Tunisians who took only four days by bus and train to travel from the island of Sicily, via Italy, to the northern French port of Dunkirk, where they bought a journey on a trafficker’s boat to the UK.
Meanwhile, as we await a decision by the UK Supreme Court this Wednesday on whether the Government’s proposal to send migrants to Rwanda is lawful, Germany last week announced its own plans for a Rwanda-style scheme to process asylum-seekers outside the EU and speed up deportations of illegal migrants, while ramping up checks at borders with Austria, Switzerland, Czechia and Poland.
Italy, too, said it hoped to send migrants to Albanian reception centres for decisions on who should be refused entry.
But the border crackdown by EU nations has come under fire for restricting travel rights for 400 million Europeans living in the bloc.
A recent report by Euroactiv, the pan-European news website, noted: ‘Taking the train from Austria into Germany feels like Schengen never existed. Upon crossing the border, the journey stops. All doors… are closed. Well-equipped policemen stroll on to the train to begin checking identities. The immediate impact: a delay on every trip.’
The return of internal checks within the Schengen area has been criticised for restricting travel rights for 400m Europeans
Horst Neidhardt, of the Centre for European Policy Studies, warned earlier this month that tightening borders showed ‘the fragility of the Schengen zone’
Germany’s ruling coalition — which includes pro-migration Greens — has sounded the alarm over police figures showing 20,000 illegal migrants entered the country in September alone
Posters have been put up all over the town of Banyuls-sur-Mer in southern France demanding that four roads over the nearby border with Spain are opened again. Used by people-traffickers bringing migrants illegally northwards in the EU, they have been shut as an ‘anti-terrorism’ measure, says the Paris government — dismaying locals who now have to travel miles further to visit relatives or work.
At the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies, migration expert Alberto-Horst Neidhardt warned earlier this month that tightening borders showed ‘the fragility of the Schengen zone’.
Thanks to Schengen, he added, ‘large numbers’ of migrants arriving in southern Europe move freely across the continent to countries such as Germany, which saw a sharp rise in asylum applications to a quarter of a million last year.
Germany’s ruling coalition — which includes pro-migration Greens — has sounded the alarm over police figures showing 20,000 illegal migrants entered the country in September alone. This came on top of an influx of 92,119 in the preceding period from January until the end of August.
The German authorities predict the number of undocumented migrants arriving this year will be the highest since 2016, when the then Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Syrians fleeing the civil war in their homeland — an act which had the effect of opening the doors of Europe to all-comers.
Germany’s president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said the current scale of the influx has marked a ‘breaking point’ because of demands on the country’s taxpayers to provide housing, food and benefit payments for the newcomers from the Balkan states, Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has added: ‘We must finally deport on a grand scale those who have no right to stay in Germany. We must significantly limit irregular migration. They must leave our country.’
In France (which has reintroduced checks at all its internal EU borders), Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that French citizens are looking for ‘decisions in a Europe surrounded by unstable lands.
‘To speak of [controlling] immigration is to speak of our sovereignty… deciding ourselves those we want to welcome, and those we want to separate from’.
Our map lays out the reasons so many countries are breaking with the Schengen deal. They make extremely alarming reading.
Denmark, now monitoring its land and sea borders with Germany, says it is facing a ‘significant threat’ to internal security from terrorists, organised crime and illegal migration. It announced it may soon extend checks to air travellers arriving from elsewhere in the EU.
Sweden warns it is checking all its EU borders due to Islamic terrorism and the serious threat to national security posed by it. Croatia’s prime minister Andrej Plenkovic has welcomed the stricter pan-European borders: ‘The EU is surrounded by a series of very big crises… bigger than any time in the past 30 years.
‘We have Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, Hamas’s attack on Israel, all this in the context of intensified flows of illegal migration.’
He added: ‘Once the Hamas attack took place, Italy decided to reintroduce its EU internal border controls vis-a-vis Slovenia. Hence, Slovenia did the same within 24 hours vis-a-vis Hungary [and Croatia].’
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has called for the EU external borders to be better protected, a call repeated by German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz in an interview with Der Spiegel
Slovakia’s new pro-Russian Prime Minister Robert Fico visited the border with Hungary last month, after announcing a large military and police deployment to stop migrants entering
Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni, seen here with Edi Rama of Albania, said that Italy wanted to send migrants to Albanian reception centres for decisions on who should be refused entry
Mr Plenkovic said controls were a signal from politicians that nations cared about their people. He also called for the EU’s external borders to be protected more rigorously, a message repeated by Germany’s Chancellor Scholz in an interview with the respected news magazine Der Spiegel.
And in Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has reacted to intelligence reports highlighting the high risk of ‘terrorists’ slipping into her country among migrants from the Balkans: ‘We have intervened promptly, suspending Schengen and restoring border controls with Slovenia.’
She predicted that the entire Schengen project could be ‘shattered’ in the frantic bid to safeguard Europe’s safety.
The border checks are being conducted in different ways by different countries.
In Italy, interior minister Matteo Piantedosi has said new spot checks at the Slovenia border are likely to run into next year. Already police had stopped 3,142 people and 1,555 vehicles in one operation, when 66 migrants were tracked down and several people questioned over irregular migration offences.
In Slovakia, the government sent hundreds of police officers, troops and dogs to its border with Hungary, ostensibly to prevent undocumented migrants from entering the country.
Prime Minister Robert Fico said of the move: ‘This demonstration of strength is intended to make clear to human smugglers and organisers of illegal migration that Slovakia is ready to protect its own territory.’
Meanwhile, in the German state of Saxony, armed police officers were last week stopping cars on the motorway leading from Poland to check them for illegal migrants and human smugglers, according to the BBC.
Fiercely anti-migrant Hungary blames the tightened borders on EU failure to curb illegal mass immigration into the bloc, a policy which it says endangers the security of individual countries.
Peter Szijjarto, foreign minister, made it clear: ‘If Brussels does not change its migration policy, we could find ourselves where we do not want to be: in an era of Europe torn apart by old borders.’
The EU’s Schengen Borders Code states that controls and checks must be a ‘last resort’ measure in the face of a serious threat to an individual nation’s security.
And, it seems, countries right across Europe — however much they once championed free movement of people inside the bloc — feel that worrying moment has come.
Article: The shattering of Schengen: The map that reveals how ELEVEN countries – from France to Slovakia, Sweden to Germany – are rebelling against EU free movement in the face of terrorism and out-of-control immigration