View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

Emmanuel Macron doesn’t plan to let the right monopolise anti-immigration sentiment

In calling for stronger external borders around the Schengen Area, the French president is making a political argument.

By Ido Vock

BERLIN – Emmanuel Macron isn’t yet a candidate for the French presidential election in April. But in an address to European ministers of the interior in the northern city of Tourcoing this week, he set out his ambition to reform the Schengen borderless area, and in so doing prevent rivals to his right monopolising the contentious issue of immigration.

The Schengen Area, which came into being in 1995 following the signing of the Schengen Agreement ten years prior, is an association of 26 European states that have abolished all border controls with each other. Macron has made reform a priority for France’s presidency of the EU, which began in January.

The principle of a borderless Europe, Macron argued, had been agreed nearly 40 years ago in a different political context. Terrorism, the 2015 migration crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, all had challenged the continued existence of the Schengen Area. “We must regain control of our borders and thus of our destiny,” Macron said.

He proposed the establishment of a Schengen Council modelled on the Eurogroup, which gathers the finance ministers of the countries that have adopted the single currency. The council would, Macron argued, relieve the pressure on individual member states to deal with crises that have the potential to affect the entire Schengen Area. In principle, it would also mean less frequent re-establishment of temporary border controls than in recent years, which has led to tensions between member states. The council could be in place as soon as next month because its formation does not require a European treaty, Macron said.

Structural weaknesses in the Schengen Area have been particularly evident in the past few years. Member states at its external borders have been largely responsible for managing irregular arrivals of migrants. During the 2015-2016 migration crisis, countries such as Greece found themselves overwhelmed by the administrative and logistical demands of registering and hosting thousands of migrants; last year Poland and the Baltic countries found themselves at the sharp end, confronted with the use of migrants as a weapon by Alexander Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus.

Yet it is uncertain that the creation of a Schengen Council would solve those issues, said Pepijn Bergsen, a research fellow on the Europe programme at the Chatham House think tank. “Not a single Schengen member disagrees with the idea that open internal borders require effective management of the external borders,” he said. “What they do disagree on is how to do that, particularly how to do that in a humane way, and whose responsibility that ultimately is and thus who must pay for it.”

Indeed, though Macron’s speech was nominally focused on efforts to reform the governance of the Schengen Area, the real focus was on Europe’s external borders. France advocates what it calls effective border control that doesn’t disregard Europe’s values (implicitly, compassion and tolerance). Yet around ten member states are known to strongly prioritise control over values, according to Le Monde. And it remains far from clear that it is possible to make strong border controls humane. Every system premised on preventing the entry of people deemed undesirable results in the deaths of some of them.

Last week 12 refugees were found dead, believed to have frozen to death, on the edge of the Schengen zone, just beyond the Greek border with Turkey. Turkey accused Greece of pushing them back — an accusation Athens strongly denies.

It is political suicide to recognise that reality in almost every European country. It may be more so in France, where Macron’s strongest rivals for the presidency, such as Valérie Pécresse and Marine Le Pen, are positioned to his right and are all campaigning on strong anti-immigration platforms. The president’s speech in Tourcoing illustrates that he does not plan to let them control the issue.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Content from our partners
Inside the UK's enduring love for chocolate
Unlocking the potential of a national asset, St Pancras International
Time for Labour to turn the tide on children’s health

Topics in this article : , ,
Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU