‘Schengen must go,’ populist politicians say following deadly Berlin attack
Nationalist and Eurosceptic politicians have renewed their calls to scrap the Schengen zone after it transpired that Anis Amri, the 24-year-old Tunisian national wanted for the Berlin Christmas market attack, made it over 500 miles from the scene of the crime to Milan, Italy, where he was shot dead by police officers – due to a routine patrol, not the Europe-wide manhunt.
Amri, who became Europe’s most wanted man following the massacre in which 12 people died, was found with train tickets showing he travelled through Chambery, France. The fact that the suspected terrorist was able to get that far with nearly all of Europe’s law enforcement agencies on his tail was a sign that the current system is broken, Schengen critics say.
"If the man shot in Milan is the Berlin killer, then the Schengen Area is proven to be a risk to public safety,” tweeted Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party which spearheaded the Brexit vote earlier this year. “It must go.”
In the Netherlands, Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders questioned both the Schengen zone and Europe’s immigration policy.
Beppe Grillo, leader of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, wrote in his blog that “Italy has become a pathway for terrorists, who we are not able to recognize thanks to Schengen,” adding that “we must act now.” He also praised Cristian Movio and Luca Scatà, the two officers who confronted Amri, calling them “secular saints.”
The strongest reaction came from Marine Le Pen, 2017 presidential candidate for France’s National Front. In a statement published on her website, Le Pen referred to the Schengen zone as a “security disaster.”
“Deprived of permanent national borders and customs infrastructure at the level, France, like most of its neighbors, is reduced to learning after the fact that an armed and dangerous jihadist was probably wandering on its soil,” she said.
“I reiterate my commitment to give France full control over its national borders and to put an end to the Schengen agreement. The myth of total free movement in Europe, to which my opponents still cling in this presidential election, must be buried.”
The Schengen zone covers the territory of 26 European states, including both EU and non-EU members. Under the agreement, which was signed in 1995, border controls between European countries were abolished, allowing free movement of people and goods across much of the continent. This has recently become strained with the migrant crisis and the rise of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. A number of experts identify the Schengen zone as a weakness in European security, allowing drugs and arms smuggling, as well as criminals and terrorists to travel around unimpeded. France reinstated its internal border controls after the Paris attacks in November 2015, which killed 130 people.