The Cost of Non-Europe: Schengen

EU (Italy) - Swiss border post

Photo by warrenski/CC BY-SA 2.0


The economic costs of countries leaving the Schengen Area and reintroducing border controls would range in the billions of euros—€2 billion to €3 billion in annual operating costs plus fixed one-off costs of anywhere between €0.1 billion and €19 billion. However, the political and social costs could be even higher.


The border-free Schengen Area guarantees free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens, as well as many non-EU nationals, businessmen, tourists or other persons with legal access to EU territory. Amid recent unprecedented influx of migrants into the European Union, the functioning of Schengen has been placed under considerable strain, with several member states reintroducing controls on parts of their internal borders. Recent evidence suggests that suspensions of Schengen are associated with, among other factors, economic costs related to barriers to trade and traffic delays at border crossing points.


RAND Europe was commissioned by the European Parliament to investigate the economic, social and political costs of 'non-Schengen'— that is, reintroducing border controls. The researchers placed a special emphasis on aspects dealing with civil liberties and home affairs. Key questions included:

  • What are the economic, social and political costs of the reintroduction of border controls regarding aspects of justice and home affairs?
  • What are the budgetary costs of reallocating public sources towards border control?
  • What are the empirical associations between Schengen, crime and security?
  • What is the empirical association between Schengen and various modalities and levels of trust?
  • Are there potential benefits of more concerted action at the EU level within the current Schengen governance framework or by external factors?


To calculate the social and political costs of the reintroduction of border controls, the team used econometric modelling techniques to investigate the association between Schengen and different types of crime, including acquisitive and violent crime, as well as illicit drug trade. In addition, the team explored associations between Schengen and different measures of trust, including interpersonal trust and trust in national and transnational institutions. For both potential social and political costs the team examined both cross-country trends and changes within countries by comparing border and non-border regions.


  • Re-establishing border controls in Europe would cost around €2–3 bn in annual operating costs. There would also be fixed one-off costs of €0.1–19 bn, depending on the timeframe for establishing border controls. The permanent establishment of border controls would result in a higher one-off cost.
  • Following the Schengen enlargement in 2007, there has been a decrease in levels of crime within the Schengen Area, such as burglary, car theft, theft and robberies. There was a particularly strong association between the 2007 enlargement and the volume of seized drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, within the Schengen Area.
  • There has been an upward trend in European citizens’ trust in national and European institutions following the Schengen enlargement in 2007. Trust is seen as an important factor in making the Schengen Agreement work for countries in the area.


  • Reform the EU asylum system to enable the more effective identification of genuine refugees.
  • Improve the EU’s return policy for migrants.
  • Strengthen cooperation with countries whose borders are the external borders of the Schengen Area.
  • Create more effective external border checks through initiatives such as systematic checks on EU nationals to support external border controls and the establishment of a European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
  • Improve information collection and sharing across agencies and member states to support existing police and judicial cooperation arrangements.

Project Team

Marco Hafner
Jirka Taylor
Martin Stepanek
Stijn Hoorens
Sarah Grand-Clement
Martin Sacher
Elma Dujso
Matteo Barberi