THE BLOG
09/28/2015 10:07 am ET Updated Sep 28, 2016

What the Migrant Crisis Means for the Schengen Zone

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In the most important movement of people in Europe since World War II, and in the first migration crisis of the 21st century, the Old Continent has received an estimated 500,000 migrants since the beginning of the year.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, they are at 53 percent Syrian, 14 percent Afghan and 7 percent Eritrean, and all fleeing civil war, poverty and violence at home. Currently at peak numbers, 10,139 migrants entered Hungary last weekend alone, with oftentimes the end goal of settling in prosperous Germany, with Greece and Italy as starting points. This is one of the West's worst humanitarian crises since the 1940s, deeply shaking Europe and its institutions.

Attitudes and responses have varied, but essentially, Germany has led several wealthier and more multicultural Western and Northern European nations in welcoming the influx of refugees. Central and Eastern European countries have strongly opposed it, led by Hungary and its building a wall at its border with Serbia in order to control human flow. Germany has solicited its peers in order to redistribute migrants across nations, following the proposal of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker concerning 160,000 persons. In the end, the agreed-on plan will concern 120,000 refugees, with Berlin taking in 31,000 of them.

The issue has eroded trust between member-states. Just like the Greek crisis called the existence of the euro into question earlier on this year, this crisis threatens to undermine another pillar of the European Union: the Schengen zone. It is a passport-free, 26-countries area where border control is not allowed. Several nations including Germany, Austria, Slovakia, France and the Netherlands abruptly reestablished border controls recently in light of the human wave sweeping in.

Europe has come too far to rid itself of either its common currency or its restriction-free travel zone, or of one of its members, for that matter (Greece). At this stage of European life, the answer to any crisis should be more Europe.

If anything, the migration crisis gives Europeans another opportunity to bond its members closer, evolve, progress and modernize. It must certainly refine Schengen and revisit its overall immigration policy; nevertheless it must not lose its democratic ideal. And in this very defining moment, Schengen should be modified rapidly if needed, but not suspended, in order not to send its members the wrong message, or even the wrong worries -- all member-nations have been very invested into enforcing it thus far, and working as one block.

While it is noble to enforce the right of asylum, Europe, like any geographical territory, has limits with regards to the number of refugees it can host. At 50 million, the current refugee population worldwide is at an all-time high since the Second World War. Europe cannot encourage additional migration and therefore must not send the wrong signal; otherwise, it will encounter a human flood. This should be clear. The border controls to be reinforced are at the outer entry points (Italy, Greece, Malta), and the speed and efficiency of processing centers must be increased urgently. And as Europe is under high terror alert, it must ensure that anyone entering the Schengen space does not cause a threat to national/international security.

The allowed immigration must certainly be organized. First and foremost, a differentiation should be made between refugees fleeing wars, and economic migrants. The former should be dissociated from those who are not under the same urgency to leave their countries. In addition, there is a need to aggressively go after the human rights trafficker (poorly) organizing the flow of migrants into the Old Continent, too often risking and costing human lives in exchange for a few dollars. And Europe should also implement accelerated expulsion procedures for the migrants seeking to take advantage of current conditions to illegally enter Europe, while not being refugees.

Nevertheless, dealing with border control is solely dealing with symptoms: the ill should be treated at its source, in the Middle East, that is. The might and weight of Germany within the Old Continent has been on full display with both the Greek and the migrants crisis this summer. Germany should now seek to increase its presence on the international, non-EU scene and in the Middle East, where it is not as involved as its neighbors, and look to further assist stabilizing Syria and clearing ISIS.

The fear of losing one's culture is understandable. EU heads of states should seek to appease their fellow countrymen, or risk seeing already popular, anti-Europe local extreme right movements add to their support base. Fear of others and intolerance are not needed in the age of European integration, nevertheless they should be publicly addressed.

There could be economic benefits to the current migration movement. To the contrary of that of America, Europe's population is not internally growing. Many Syrian refugees are educated, of working age, and by the sheer act of migrating, are enterprising individuals. As such, the refugees could contribute an economic counterbalance to the vast aging populations in need of larger domestic labor forces to pay taxes and indirectly support them. Somewhat surprisingly, the countries where population is shrinking the most, those of Central and Eastern Europe, are the most adamant to the arrival of the refugees wave.

Schengen, just like the euro, should and will survive -and adapt. It is too important. Today's ordeal is a tough balancing act, on the diplomatic scene as well as logistically. But it is an opportunity for advancement. If we take the perspective that in this day and age, globalization and multicultural societies not reversible, then Europe should make the most of the current immigration wave, while containing it as makes sense.