Robert Zielonka, from the Graduates of Democracy Organization. Article as published in


It is when I cross a border far away from home, in Asia or in the Middle East, that I am reminded of one of the biggest achievements of the European Union: free movement within the Schengen countries. Indeed, traveling freely across borders is possibly the most practical benefit many Europeans enjoy for being part of a European community. Schengen and the free movement principles are at the core essence of the European Union, and many European Millennials that have never lived in a Europe with borders cannot even imagine a Europe with internal borders.

Yet, in the wake of the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks, and amid growing concern about the migration flows from Africa and the Middle East, a majority of Europeans declared to be in favour of the suspension of the Schengen Treaty.

The numbers are shocking: less than one in four Europeans declares to be supportive of maintaining free movement of people among 26 EU countries, without border controls. Among young people a slightly larger percentage supported free movement, however still being far under 50%. In short, confronted with an unknown threat of terrorism or an uncontrollable phenomenon like mass migration, Europeans believe that closing national borders will protect them from the outsider threat.

Of course, the will to build walls and reinstall passport controls within European countries is more than anything else a declaration of complete mistrust for each of our European neighbors. Austrians don’t trust Italians, French don’t trust Belgians, and instead of sharing confidential information about radicalized individuals, a shared belief goes that closing borders will keep the evil men out.

As a consequence, entry countries for EU-directed migration become even more burdened with an unmanageable flow (yes, the Dublin principle is preserved, but at what price?), less information on radicalized and potentially dangerous individuals is shared, and above all, all European citizens lose one of the most valuable freedoms that have long been fought for – the freedom of movement between countries of the Schengen Area. Not to mention the economic effects of such policies…

Gianni Pittella recently rightly criticized the idea that closing up into nation states again will make all of us be more prosperous and secure than within a European Union, but the truth is that just like right-wing governments in Hungary and Poland build up walls and create a number of national fortresses, it is a social-democratic government in Austria that proposed to build a wall at the Brenner Pass, and a socialist government in France that suspended Schengen in November 2015. As a young progressive, it is painful to conclude that there is not much of a progressive/conservative distinction anymore between supporters and critics of open borders, as progressive politicians have too often followed far right populists.

Fortunately, the generational divide might ensure that the battle for an open Europe is still won. Young Europeans are in the age group that more than any other believes in Europe’s open frontiers. A generation that has only known a frontierless Europe, can indeed not be but the paladin fighter for European open borders – for a free movement that symbolically unites an Erasmus generation that has always enjoyed the benefit of freely traveling, studying, working and visiting friends in other European countries.

Millennials cannot be in favour of walls being teared up in Europe. Our generation has the moral obligation to speak up in favour of the freedom of European movement, as young progressives we need to make our voice heard to so that support for free movement returns to be an undeniable trait of progressive politics.

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