Ever since the UK referendum to leave the EU, there has been speculation around other possible countries having referendums on their EU membership. Political figures in Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and even France have stirred up the idea of splitting with the EU. However, although Britain is an EU member, it is not a part of the Schengen zone. Thus, travellers cannot freely exit and enter the UK without presenting a valid passport at immigration control. If Schengen countries such as Italy or Spain decide to leave the EU, what would happen to their enforcement of the Schengen zone related rules? Will these countries also not implement the ETIAS? To answer these questions, the Schengen Agreement itself should first be examined.
What is the Schengen Agreement?
The Schengen Agreement is a treaty signed in 1985 that led to the establishment of the Schengen zone. The purpose of the Schengen Agreement was to reduce or eliminate internal border checks at shared border crossings and thus allow for greater freedom of movement of people and goods. Currently, the Schengen zone consists of 26 European countries. The Schengen Agreement is not exclusive to European Union members. For example, Switzerland is part of the Schengen Agreement but not of the European Union. However, currently the Schengen Agreement is bound within the terms of EU membership, thus, any new EU members will need to abide by the Schengen Agreement rules, which can be modified by majority voting of EU legislative bodies.
What could happen if a Schengen Member leaves the EU?
If an existing Schengen EU Member country decides to leave the EU by way of a referendum or other means, then the decision of whether the country decides to enforce the rules of the Schengen zone is a separate matter dealt with by the departing member. The departing member country may wish to stay within the Schengen zone and if so, they will likely be required to honour existing Schengen rules as well as implement ETIAS as part of their participation in the Schengen zone. If the departing member decides to handle their border security without the Schengen, then they will need to re-introduce and / or re-build their border controls as well as manage their own border security.
Why would a departing EU member consider staying in the Schengen?
Enforcing border controls may cost hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars depending on the size and type of the border as well as the personnel and technologies used for border security. Most of the movement of people and goods at borders is important to commerce and poses no security threats to people residing in the country. The departing EU member should weight the advantages of having additional control at their borders versus the high costs associated with fully managing their own borders. One advantage of staying in the Schengen is that the implementation of the ETIAS will provide an electronic travel authorisation for registering, authorising/denying travel clearance and keeping track of the movements of low-security EU travellers. The ETIAS will also provide an additional source of revenue for the participating Schengen countries. However, non-EU Schengen countries will not have much, if any power to change the terms of the Schengen rules as only EU member countries will be able to vote on such revisions.