The open border policy in some European countries is looking more and more vulnerable. The Schengen Agreement, as it’s called, is facing harsh criticism from the right in Europe following the recent Paris attacks. What to do about Schengen is on the agenda for an emergency European Union summit on Friday. Several countries have already temporarily closed — or increased screening — at borders, and there are calls to toss the agreement altogether.
European businesses have gotten used to the open border policy. Bart Lamaire’s potato exporting business in Belgium depends on it.
“We are buying the potatoes on the farms here in Europe, we are processing them, and we are exporting our processed and fresh potatoes through Europe and through the world," he said.
His drivers have already noticed changes at borders.
“We do see that there is more police on the roads, there is more attention given,” he said, although, he points out the tightened borders haven’t really affected his business yet.
But other parts of Europe are seeing bottlenecks, according to Robert Handfield, a professor of supply chain management at North Carolina State University.
“They’re struggling with getting food shipments on time," he said, "they’re struggling with trucks that are bottled up at border crossings, trains that are being held up for inspection.”
Meanwhile, companies whose job it is to move goods around are taking notice and preparing. Troy Cooper, a senior executive with XPO Logistics, said so far, delays are limited and he hasn't seen any significant slowdowns in shipments. Nevertheless, he said, “we expect in the future that there will be different border controls that we’ll experience delays, but we’ll adapt our optimization of schedules and make sure we are notifying customers.”
With all the calls to dump the open border policy, multinational firms, in particular, could be vulnerable. Yossi Sheffi, a transportation logistic expert at MIT said they may have to bring back some old strategies.
“It used to be that they had a distribution center in every European country. It was a very inefficient system," Sheffi said. "The system now is much more efficient as long as the borders are open, and allow for free flow of goods.”
And right now, many Europeans want the free flow of goods — and people — stopped.