“Strong and united”, this is how European leaders define their integrity. They describe the EU as an example of modern-day regionalism, a bloc that can face any unprecedented crisis. But at this juncture, a lot of this has been debunked.
Today’s EU is grappling with several challenges that threaten the very unity they talk about. Be it the energy crisis, the stance on the ongoing war, the changing domestic politics throughout the EU nations, or the issue of migration. Each of them has brought the EU down.
In response to the recent migration wave, numerous EU nations have reimposed border controls, which has prompted neighboring states to follow suit. According to media reports, Slovenia is now considering reintroducing checks at southern crossings as neighboring Croatia prepares to join Europe’s increasingly limited borderless Schengen area.
Slovenia’s Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon has said that after Croatia joins the Schengen area, Slovenia is prepared to resume police border checks out of concern that illegal migrants would get stuck in Slovenia as a result of police inspections in Austria.
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“Now, with Croatia joining Schengen, we do not want Slovenia to become a pocket due to increases in migrants and refugees. Slovenia is ready to introduce internal controls the next day, week or months, whenever necessary”, he added.
Croatia is expected to join the borderless Schengen region on January 1, 2023, making its border with Bosnia and Serbia the new external Schengen border.
So what exactly is this Schengen region? It is the area which encompasses 26 European countries, where internal border checks have largely been abolished for short-term tourism, business trips, or transit to non-Schengen destinations. It provides free movement of people that enables every EU citizen to travel, work, and reside in an EU country without the need for any formalities.
However, this region has its own challenges. The functioning of the Schengen area is in danger due to control deficiencies at the external borders. A lot of illegal migration takes place throughout the area. Additionally, this region makes it easier for cross-border criminals to operate. Further, border controls are no longer in place in the region, making it more challenging to arrest foreign drug traffickers who might try to take advantage of countries’ laxer drug regulations.
All this adds to the worries of the Balkan nations. According to the latest data by Frontex, the number of illegal crossings of the EU’s external border in the first ten months of this year had grown by 73% compared to the same period last year. The Balkan route, of which Slovenia is a part, remains the main entry point.
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A growing number of migrants have been using the Balkans route to richer western European nations in recent months, frequently paying smugglers hundreds of euros (dollars) to transport them over borders without legal travel credentials. After its neighbours closed their borders to stop migration, Slovenia is the most recent of the frontline nations along the Balkan route to face this dilemma.
Last week, Slovakia also pressurized the Czech Republic to ease border controls at entry points along the 252 km border to deter migrants from travelling on foot or being smuggled in vehicles. Earlier, Prague put the checks in place after seeing a 12-fold rise in the number of detentions of illegal migrants so far in 2022, often causing hours-long delays in traffic.
Thus, disagreements and challenges are visible among European countries on the migration issue, and as tensions rise on other issues ranging from the economy to energy, it is clear that keeping migrants at home will be a major problem for various European nations at the time. If the problems of these Balkan nations remain unheard, surely the European disintegrate button would be triggered!
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