Border security: lessons from a fractured Europe
9 May 2017|

Brexit, and the US presidential election result, provided tangible evidence that migration and border security policies are becoming increasingly politicised in Western democracies. Public policy dialogue on migration and border security has become ever more polarised into a zero sum game in which debates on both issues descend into a binary ‘secure’ or ‘insecure’ ultimatum.

Today, ASPI’s Border Security Program is releasing two reports (Fractured Europe: the Schengen Area and European border security and Drawing border security lessons from Europe’s Schengen experiences) that have been developed to broaden the depth of this dialogue through a case study of Schengen.

Described as ‘one of the major achievements of European integration’, and once seen as a model for the future, the Schengen Area is at a critical point in its history. The simultaneous crises of irregular migration and terrorism have each placed unprecedented pressure on open borders and the free movement of people, goods and services and made border security a political priority for the European Union nations.

Established in 1995, the Schengen Area is a 4,312,099 square kilometre ‘zone’ embracing 26 European nations and around 420 million people, which abolished border controls to allow the free and unrestricted movement of people, goods, services and capital. Those controls were replaced with common rules for controlling external borders and fighting criminality with a common judicial system and strong police cooperation.

The Special Report Fractured Europe: the Schengen Area examines why member states are resorting to national over collective action in their response to the current challenges. A picture emerges of a Europe in which Brussels has struggled to maintain the security of the external EU border while national capitals prioritise the security of their own borders.

In the context of growing national populism, efforts to achieve solidarity in the face of common challenges haven’t been forthcoming. Ultimately, the EU needs a European agenda on border security and consensus from member states on its outcomes.

The Strategic Insights report, Drawing border security lessons from Europe’s Schengen experiences, argues that those responsible for Schengen’s external border security face impossible expectations that they can manage extraordinary challenges, such as 2016’s mass migration surge, without additional resources and powers.

The report provides observations and recommendations based on the Schengen experience for Australian border security policymakers, including the following:

  • While border management has a strong national and domestic security nexus, policy professionals should view border security as one of the many operational and policy levers available to disrupt threats and risks coming through the border.
  • In the current threat and risk environment, nation-states have little choice but to securitise border management, but this needn’t translate to the securitisation of migration. Governments should establish public information campaigns to promote public dialogue on ‘securitising borders versus securitising migration’.
  • Border security policies shouldn’t be developed in isolation from other national and domestic security strategies.
  • The prevention of mass migration crises globally and regionally should be central to all sovereign states’ national strategies. At the core of this work should be policies focused on addressing the drivers of mass migration. Australia needs to develop strategies for dealing with emerging regional migration challenges, including those associated with climate events (especially for Papua New Guinea) and persecution (such as of Rohingyas in Myanmar).
  • Governments should enhance their capacity to co-design harmonised border facilitation and security policies.
  • The parliamentary joint committees on intelligence and security and law enforcement should consider reviewing legislative impediments to the sharing of national security, criminal and financial intelligence.
  • Australia should examine ways to facilitate ASEAN member states’ consideration and harmonisation of the economic and security dimensions of any future ASEAN Economic Community border arrangements. At the very least, Australia should encourage ASEAN states to maintain the frameworks and capacity to implement extraordinary border controls for short periods in the face of future risks and threats.

One strong lesson learned from the Schengen Area experience is that border, national and domestic security policymakers need to work together to identify the most efficient and effective strategies to disrupt threats and risks, whatever they may be. Such decision-making must also be underpinned by a comprehensive understanding of threats and risks, free from political interference in operational decision-making. With such an understanding, policymakers can selectively apply measures if and when needed.

In Western liberal democracies, it appears that for the time being ‘standing in front’ of this wave of anti-migration sentiment is unlikely to win you elections. However, this politically and emotionally charged environment shouldn’t prevent policy dialogue that argues the facts, even if it goes against populist sentiment. ASPI’s latest border security reports take an analytical perspective to the problem that sets aside the current rhetoric.