tisdag 5 juli 2011

The end for Europe’s open borders?

Published July 2011, EuroFILE no 9

As everything else, crime is global. The human slave trade, drug and organ trafficking alongside with terrorism, are examples of international criminal activities conducted with mafia methods. Child pornography and money laundering are other serious crimes where national borders cannot stop the criminal organisations.

Worrisome survey results show that serious organised crime has benefited from the financial crisis. Human trafficking is likely to have increased and in Sweden it is reported that companies hire illegal workers from employment agencies controlled by criminals. There is a serious risk that the criminal structures built during the financial crisis will become permanent as the profits are high, while risks and penalties are relatively low. This development is frightening and absolutely unacceptable. It threatens to overturn the very core of the rule of law and poses an increasing threat to the open society that we must protect.

We should not ignore the problems of organised international crime, but it is imperative that we do not in panic respond to this threat with ineffective and unnecessary political measures. Instead, we must increase cooperation between EU member states to fight and destroy this transnational organised crime. It is not national initiatives that we need but joint, comprehensive approaches and a major European initiative to tackle the problem at its core.

Recently, the Danish Government made a pact with the xenophobic and populist Dansk Folkparti, where the Government agreed to increase custom controls in exchange for a pension reform. The purpose, they say, is to combat organised crime. However, the European commission is concerned that this development stands directly contrary to the idea of free mobility. We do not want to sacrifice freedom of ovement, one of the greatest successes of European integration, allowing people within the Schengen area to cross borders without being stopped at time-consuming assport controls. But when the open and free Europe is being exposed to serious pressure, many political eaders find it hard to resist. Several EU Member States seemingly want to undermine this cornerstone of ntegration.

When North African people seek their freedom, Europe hesitates. When overcrowded refugee boats perish on the Mediterranean and desperately fleeing men and women drown, the European response is shamefully slow and limited: Too little, too late. Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy in true drama cry for help to share the ”burden”. Involuntarily paraphrasing Kipling, that is how leading Europeans describe the men, women and children seeking a new future on our shores. More seldom do we talk about true solidarity and shared responsibility to help and protect. Yes, open borders are being abused for human trafficking, drug smuggling and other branches of organized international crime. But when the villains work across borders, so must we. Our best response is that we, too, cooperate with our neighbours – creating a European FBI, if you will - to stop them.

Nationalism and increasing protectionism spread across our continent, as apparent in many recent European election outcomes. We must ask ourselves: Is this just a temporary trend or a seriously worrying long-term change of mindsets?

We must remember that the peaceful European cooperation is still only an anomaly of Europe’s bloody, war-filled history. We can't be so naïve as to believe that citizens of Europe today might be immune to extremism and nationalism. Those leaders of Europe who respond to the movement of peoples across borders with simplified rhetoric, fear-inducing propaganda and scape-goat accusations against refugees, minorities or foreigners would do well to sign up for some classes in European modern history.

We need a more united Europe. Let us not build border barriers; let us instead tear them down. Let ordinary people work and meet across borders. Open Europe, working together and united in diversity is our best bet to remain prosperous, safe and in peace.

Olle Schmidt MEP, Liberal Party of Sweden

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