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Calls mount for France to bring back its borders

Ben McPartland · 15 Sep 2015, 15:58

Published: 15 Sep 2015 15:58 GMT+02:00

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France's far right rejoiced at the weekend when Germany announced it was closing sections of its borders. No sooner had the decision been made than Marine Le Pen was demanding France follow suit.

Her call for France to tear up the Schengen rules which allows for free travel within the EU and restore controls along its border with Germany was swatted aside by interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve who dismissed the suggestion as “stupid”.

But it’s not just predictable calls from the likes of Le Pen that are pressuring the Socialist government to take action amid the ever-worsening migrant crisis.

On Monday Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right party also called for “provisional” re-establishment of France’s borders until the EU comes up with an adequate solution for dealing with huge influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.

Sarkozy himself has received plenty of pats on the back this week as he has long demanded the end of the Schengen system in order to protect France's ailing social system.

Claude Guéant, the former Interior Minister under ex-president Sarkozy, was the latest to demand controls be reinstated along France’s borders, blaming German Chancellor Angela Merkel for encouraging migrants to come to Europe.

Interior Minister Cazeneuve and others argue the fairly low number of refugees coming from Germany means there is no point in France restoring controls along the lengthy border.

Cazeneuve has pointed out that most migrants and refugees still prefer to head to Germany or the UK than France.

Pierre Henry director of France’s OPFRA organisation, which handles requests from asylum seekers, also says that refugees aren't suddenly heading from Germany to France.

But those in favour say that with Germany now effectively sending out the message that “we’re full”, the refugees will aim for France instead.

And until recently French public opinion has been very much against the country following the example of Germany in taking in thousands of refugees.

François Gemenne, specialist on migration from Sciences-Po's Centre of International Research told The Local he wouldn't be surprised if the Socialist government buckled, but that it would undoubtedly be the wrong thing to do.

“I can see France bringing back border controls but it would be the stupidest thing to do,” he said. 

“It would be shooting yourself in the foot. The reason why people want borders closed and the end of Schengen has nothing to do with the reality of the refugee crisis in France, but the way Schengen rules are perceived,” he said.

“It would only be to appease public opinion and let the public believe that they won’t be invaded by a huge wave of migrants heading their way,” Gemenne added. “It’s just symbolic.”

“It would clearly not solve the problem. The refugees are in Europe and they will continue to come, you can’t just close the door and tell your neighbour to take care of them.”

Gemenne says the fact Sarkozy has urged Schengen to be scrapped may actually be the only reason why President François Hollande declines to do so.

"It would look like he was following Sarkozy's orders," said Gemenne.

While officially France called for the Schengen agreements to be “scrupulously” respected by all EU countries the reality is that Paris has done anything but, at least when it comes to its border with Italy.

Story continues below…

With most refugees and migrants entering France from Italy, French authorities have long been implementing controls to try to stem the tide, with the result being that hundreds have been taken back across the border.

According to the latest figures, last week alone around 800 foreigners were arrested for being in France illegally, two thirds of whom were taken back across the border.

Gemenne says much now will depend on what Germany does next, but if Berlin continues to ignore Schengen, then it may spell the end of borderless Europe for the foreseeable future.




Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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