Mises Wire

Borders Closing Across Europe: Norway Joins In

Even though it isn’t a member of the European Union, Norway is a part of the Schengen Area in Europe which is the “borderless” zone of Europe where, until recently, people and goods could pass from country to country without border checks. 

Recently, Schengen has begun to break down. As I noted in last Friday’s Mises Daily article, the idea of a politically unified Europe is facing one of its greatest threats ever as France requested a suspension of Schengen in response to the Paris attacks. This followed an earlier move by Sweden to close its own border even though Sweden was a part of Schengen. This came after Swedes began a backlash against Sweden’s importation of migrants from Syria. As a result of Sweden’s openness to migrants, Finland instituted border checks in its border with Sweden. Moreover, some Dutch politicians have suggested shrinking Schengen down to a much smaller “core.”

Now, Norway has joined in and instituted its own border checks. Bloomberg reports

Norway became the latest Scandinavian nation to respond to a deepening refugee crisis that has already overwhelmed neighboring Sweden by introducing border controls.

“The large number of asylum seekers and migrants is creating big challenges for us,” Finance Minister Siv Jensen said in a statement.

Measures will in particular aim to prevent refugees spilling out of Sweden into Norway, after the Swedish government acknowledged its generous immigration policies were backfiring. The largest Scandinavian economy has had to amend its budget to take into account the extra cost of absorbing the more than 350,000 people Swedish authorities estimate may enter the country this year and next.

Meanwhile, the European press (at least the English-language press) is filling up with articles declaring Schengen to be a failure.

Rosemary Righter writes from London that “No government is as yet fully prepared to admit it, but the brief era of borderless travel through most of the European Union is over.” 

Wolfgang Munchau writes in the Financial Times: 

Since we are not going to fix Schengen, let us return to national border controls. It will be very expensive, especially for France, which has yet to build up a fully functional domestic security service...The overriding goal has to be to preserve one of the most important common goods the EU can provide to its citizens: a modern and professional level of internal security. Schengen cannot deliver this. But the member states still can, and should be allowed to do this.

Munchau recognizes that the dream of one enormous Schengen border is beyond the financial capabilities of the EU states that are on the frontier. That is, states like Hungary and Poland do border control on the cheap, whereas states like Germany and France expect much higher standards of border control. The poorer states of Eastern Europe can’t live up to this standard. 

If we read between the lines, though, we can offer an additional dimension here. Open borders — or very weak borders — are incompatible with Europe’s welfare state. Cheap border patrol works for Hungary and Poland because few migrants want to go there. The brass ring lies in Germany and Scandinavia where migrants are cut monthly welfare checks, get free bus passes, and don’t have to find jobs. 

That’s not the case in poorer eastern Europe. So, we’ve seen in recent months how migrants from Syria and elsewhere might stop temporarily in Hungary, but they really want to get to Germany. The migrants — being rational humans — go where the easy money is. 

By offering free stuff to migrants, rich EU countries hold out a big carrot, but then turn around and say “sorry, some of you need to go back to Hungary.” (See Justin Murray’s discussion here.) The problem, though, is that Hungary doesn’t have the resources to keep migrants in Hungary and out of Germany. If Germany wants to control its border, it needs to control the German border, and not the Schengen border on the Hungarian frontier. 

The dream of a European superstate is in trouble, and saving it will cost a lot of taxpayer money.  

Of course, there is a solution that doesn’t involve taxpayer money. As Ron Paul notes, we don’t “need more barbed wire to solve this problem.”  The answer lies in allowing free passage to those who genuinely wish to engage in free economic exchange. In other words, any migrant who voluntarily gives up access to taxpayer funded benefits (and who isn’t a criminal) would be free to enter.  However, the idea that everyone be on some sort of government benefit is so hardwired into the European mind, its hard to image this sort of truly free movement being allowed any time soon. 

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