Nicolas Schmit: freedom of movement within Europe is under threat. How is Luxembourg’s government responding?
Revolutions in the Arab world have led to an influx of migration through Europe’s southern borders. In turn France has introduced border checks along its border with Italy, and Denmark permanently reinstated controls along its borders with Germany and Sweden--despite Schengen Agreement guarantees of freedom of movement within Europe. Ahead of the June 24 European Council meeting on the issue, Nicolas Schmit, Luxembourg’s labour, employment and immigration minister, talks to Delano about the Grand Duchy’s frontier with France.
AG: Why is freedom of movement so important?
NS: Schengen is an essential pillar of the European integration process, one of the major achievements of European integration.
We have really abolished these borders, which created so much grief and so high an economic cost in Europe. Some people now are dreaming of re-establishing these borders. It is in a way going backwards. Not forward, but backwards. Especially because border controls are by no means the right answer to [the problem of illegal immigration].
AG: Do you think France would re-introduce border checks along the frontier with Luxembourg?
NS: With France, it is a very touchy issue because officially they never abolished border controls with Luxembourg. They maintain border controls because they disagree with the drugs policy in the Netherlands. That’s why with Belgium and Luxembourg, France never really definitely abolished the principle of border controls. Sometimes there are [still] controls, though this is not very legal in terms of the Schengen acquis.
AG: How likely are they to permanently re-instate widespread controls?
NS: I don’t think this very likely, but you never know in a political atmosphere where this debate can turn wrong. You can never exclude that this can be used as [part of] some political argument.
AG: What would be the consequences?
NS: It would be a catastrophe.
Thousands of commuters being controlled once they enter Luxembourg or they re-enter France. It would become an economic--I would even say an ecologic--catastrophe because people would spend not one hour in a traffic jam, but two or three hours. So it is an absurd approach to the real problems. We have to explain to the people that it’s not a security issue as they always say.
Nicolas Schmit talks about safeguarding the Schengen area in the June print edition of Delano.