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EU citizens will now not only have their passports examined but have their personal information checked with databases. (Photo: Frontex)

Aggressive Crackdown Spelling End of Europe's Famous Open Borders

Passport-free Schengen zone, a 'unique symbol of European integration,' is more threatened 'than at any point since its inception'

Deirdre Fulton

European ministers, gathered in Brussels on Friday one week after the Paris attacks, vowed to tighten external border controls, backing France's call for a fundamental revision of the so-called Schengen deal to allow the "systematic" controlling of EU citizens at borders.

The 26-nation, passport-free Schengen zone—which European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker dubbed a "unique symbol of European integration"—is "under greater threat than at any point since its inception," The Economist declared.

According to news outlets, EU interior and justice ministers also agreed to speed new legislation to share air passengers' data, which Deutsche Welle notes "EU lawmakers have long opposed on privacy grounds," and pledged "systematic registration, including fingerprinting, of all migrants entering into the Schengen area."

EU officials also said travelers will now not only have their passports examined but have their personal information checked with databases. To ensure that such screening and security checks take place, teams of extra border guards and police will be sent to the certain high-traffic crossings. 

And the changes will not be temporary. "The European Commission has agreed to present, by the end of the year, a plan to reform the Schengen border code to allow systematic and obligatory checks at all external borders for all travelers, including those who benefit from free movement," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said after Friday's emergency meeting.

Still, the plan is likely to prompt vigorous debate among EU nations, the Guardian reports:

Finalising the new borders regime could take months, however, and is likely to run into legislative infighting in Brussels. The European commission has to propose changes to the Schengen rules that would then need to be endorsed by national governments and the European parliament, where opposition and delays are likely. Previous attempts to tighten the borders regime, notably after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January, petered out.

Indeed, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann told EU leaders to resist calls to close borders within the zone, saying to do so "would be the end of Schengen and the European idea."

EU-wide measures come on top of a vote Thursday by France's lower National Assembly to extend that country's state of emergency for three months. This grants authorities an extended ability to carry out searches without warrants and to copy data from any system (exempting MPs, lawyers, magistrates, and journalists); increased capacity to block websites that "encourage terrorism;" and expanded powers to immediately place any person under house arrest if there are "serious reasons to think their behavior is a threat to security or public order."

But such pulling up the continental drawbridge while cracking down on civil liberties is the wrong strategy in the long run, New Statesman columnist Laurie Penny wrote on Thursday.

Extremist groups like ISIS, she argued, "aren't worried about the prospect of more air strikes, more civilian casualties, more callousness on the borders of Europe, more security clampdowns at its heart. They are looking forward to all of that."

She continued: "They're probably rubbing their hands at the xenophobic attacks taking place right now across the continent, at the conservative calls for crackdowns on Muslims, at the imminent passing of further surveillance legislation that has proved dubiously effective in catching terrorists but extremely efficient in curbing the individual freedoms of ordinary civilians. What ISIS wants is a holy war between two violently homogeneous civilizations, and the only way it will get that is if the West starts to behave like one."

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