The Schengen area is supposed to be a border-free zone within Europe. But as large numbers of displaced people arrived in 2015, some Schengen countries reintroduced border controls. And they’re still in place, since the countries have kept extending them for the past four years. Our data analysis shows how just how extraordinary that situation is, and interviews with MEPs and migration policy experts conclude that the continued extension of the controls may be illegal under EU law. This story was translated into Arabic, German, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Urdu.
This article was the most viewed article on DW.com for several days following its publication. It also got almost seven times our average views at DW Data, making it one of the most successful of our data-driven pieces to date. European news portal InfoMigrants picked up the story as well. It was also discussed widely on the social media channels of DW.
The European Commission publishes a list of all reintroductions of border controls since 2006 as a PDF on their website. We used Tabula and manual data cleaning to convert this list into a machine-readable Excel table. After some background research, we classified the reasons given for the reintroductions into the categories “migration”, “terrorism” and “foreseeable event”. We analyzed and visualized the data with the statistical programming language R, and finished and translated the graphics with Illustrator. We reached out to MEPs and migration policy experts for background research. We also used data from Frontex and German crime statistics to provide context for the reasoning put forward by the member states.
What was the hardest part of this project?
With this story, explaining the legislative processes and the power structures at play was just as important as the data work. The ongoing border controls have been covered by DW and other media occasionally, but mostly in the form of short news statements. A look at the broader situation was missing from the discussion. With this piece, we aimed to add a new, fact-based perspective to an ongoing emotional discussion. This, we believe, is one of the valuable functions data-driven journalism can and should fulfill in the newsroom.
What can others learn from this project?
We publish the data, methodology and code behind all of our analyses to enable audiences to check and reproduce our work. With this project, we went one step further and published a markdown document containing meta information about the story as well as a line-by-line walkthrough of our programming code with explanations.