Law without enforcement? Explaining European Commission responses to non-compliance in the Schengen area

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    The EU is a community of law. The coherence and legitimacy of its legal order are central to its success as an integration project. The European Commission is the supranational institution charged with safeguarding EU legal order by overseeing member states’ compliance with EU law. To this end, the Commission is empowered to bring infringement proceedings against non-compliant member states. Given its institutional interests and legal powers, we would expect the Commission to rigorously enforce uniform compliance with EU law. Yet, it often does not. Instead, it may respond to non-compliance by employing ‘soft’ measures, such as warnings and dialogues, by seeking to accommodate the preferences of non-compliant states via legal reform, or even by tacitly tolerating non-compliant behaviour. The key question this project seeks to answer is which factors lead the Commission to choose which kind of response and why?
    The project will utilise a mixed-method, small-n case study design to investigate how the Commission responds to non-compliance and which factors condition its response. The empirical focus is on the Schengen area; the EU’s 27-member free travel zone. The inquiry is both timely and policy relevant, as Schengen has faced many challenges to its legal governance over the past several years and is currently undergoing reform. The cases of interest are clustered around three external shocks to the Schengen system: first, the ‘migration crisis’ of 2015, second the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020, and third, the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began in 2022. Each crisis led to violations of Schengen law by multiple member states, but none have resulted in infringement proceedings. Thus, the project will collect and analyse data on the Commission’s responses to Schengen violations with a view to explaining them. Data will be collected from a range of sources, including semi-structured interviews with EU and member state officials, extensive analysis of EU and government documents, and relevant case law.
    By seeking to explain when and why the Commission eschews hard enforcement, the project builds on extant literature. By focusing on Schengen, the project addresses a major limitation in our current knowledge, while also linking research on the Commission’s enforcement behaviour to broader debates about the future of Schengen, most importantly whether it can be maintained as an essentially borderless area of travel or whether it is being (partially) ‘re-bordered’.
    StatusNot started
    Effective start/end date1/01/2531/12/26


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