In a recent speech French President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to close French borders in an effort to stop illegal immigration. Currently France is part of the EU visa-free Schengen Area. This agreement, signed in 1985, was incorporated into European Union Law in 1999, and made it possible to travel freely within the Eurozone. This means that within this area everyone, both EU citizens and third-country nationals, can move freely. In theory an illegal immigrant whose first point of contact is in a border country can move freely into France. In 2011 more than 23,000 immigrants from Tunisia fled to Italy, and experts estimated that over 80 percent of them did not remain in Italy but continued on to France or Germany. In his speech Sarkozy has blamed EU countries with external borders for having lax border controls.
Withdrawing France from the Schengen zone and closing French borders will do little to stop illegal immigration. Immigration to Europe has constantly increased. The majority of illegal immigrants enter through Italy, and more recently through Greece, where there is a porous border due to the economic and social unrest. People will continue to make the unsafe journey across the Mediterranean in search of better economic and living opportunities in Europe. If their ultimate destination is France, perhaps because relatives already live there, they will continue to do so whether or not France formally closes its borders.
If France actually wants to stop illegal immigration and it is committed to the EU then it should devote its resources to border control along the Mediterranean and engage the countries where the majority of Europe’s immigrants originate. If Sarkozy wants to curb illegal immigration then he should devote more resources to the root causes of immigration. Migration is often discussed in terms of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors. People flee countries for economic reasons, social unrest or fear of persecution, while they are drawn to Europe in search of better economic opportunities and living conditions. The EU already engages its neighbors to the south and east through its European Neighborhood Policy. Established in 2004, its objective is to increase the prosperity, security and stability of those countries, which will ultimately benefit the EU as well. Sarkozy should encourage this policy, not threaten to pull France out of the Schengen area.
Nora McGann is a first year student in the M.S. in Foreign Service (MSFS) program at Georgetown University.