Shortly after several devastating terror attacks hit Paris on Friday night, French President Francois Hollande said he would close the country's borders. It seemed like a drastic step for a country that is part of the Schengen zone, the European area where citizens can travel freely among the 26 member nations, and has not had systematic border checkpoints in years.
But what happened next demonstrated how fragile the continental European security concept really is. In reality, France is unable to control its own borders. Hundreds of roads lead into the country from the main neighbouring countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Spain.
Travellers entering France from Britain through the Eurotunnel early on Saturday morning did not encounter passport controls -- just hours after Hollande's announcement. The confusion grew when airlines and railway companies said their service between France and neighbouring countries would continue.
Controls would enable authorities to regulate the influx of refugees. Many of them have come to Europe without having their identities checked, which has raised worries that terrorists might easily be able to enter countries like France.
There may be several reasons for the unwillingness or inability of French authorities to reintroduce real border checks. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, multiple terrorists had been on the run -- a scenario that might have impacted on Hollande's decision on Friday night. But his intention may not have been to seal the border completely.
Another factor that probably played a role, however, is France's border infrastructure. Before the creation of a borderless Europe, guards would check the passports of all passengers on trains and in vehicles at the borders, and on planes. Often, they would also search travellers' personal belongings and suitcases.
But that system was abandoned years ago. Setting it up again would take some time. And there do not seem to be plans to do so at this point.
At Place de la République in central Paris, hundreds of people assembled on Saturday night to show thy did not fear the terrorists. "We cry, but we never fear," a poster at the vigil read.
"If we stay at home now that would show our weakness. But we are not weak. We are strong!" one Parisian said.
The French do not want to give up their liberties that easily. And borderless travel in Europe is considered a major achievement of European integration, as Adam Taylor wrote in September on a Washington Post WorldViews blog:
"There are now 26 different countries within the Schengen area. In total, a whopping 400 million people can travel freely in an area which spans over 1.6 million square miles. For many Europeans, the Schengen zone has a remarkable symbolic power: Remember, not so long ago this was a continent that was physically divided by walls."
But how much longer will the Schengen area last in its current form?
It is not the first time announcements of border closures have caused confusion in Europe in recent months. Reacting to the growing number of refugees trying to cross the continent, Germany announced this year that it would "close its borders to Austria".
In reality, however, the reinstated border checks looked far different than one would imagine. Contrary to what most Germans and Austrians initially thought, border controls were not restored and checks continued to be conducted spontaneously.