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27th Nov 2021

EU commission wants nations to give up border control decisions

  • The EU commission doesn't want capitals to randomly put up border controls (Photo: MSVG)

The EU commission wants to have a central role in decisions on the reintroduction of border controls, so far a prerogative of individual member states. A draft proposal will be put forward next week and is already causing a stir in pre-election Denmark.

"Freedom of movement of persons is a common European good and decisions affecting it should be taken at EU level," home affairs spokesman Michele Cercone said Tuesday (6 September) during a press conference in Brussels.

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He explained that the proposals have been requested by member states wanting to have stronger control mechanisms in the so-called Schengen area, a border-free zone comprising of 25 EU and non-EU countries.

Under the proposal, likely to be watered down by member states who have to endorse it before it can enter into force, governments will have to ask the EU commission when they want to temporarily re-introduce border controls in case of "foreseeable events" such as football championships. If approved by the EU executive, the decision is then to be taken by a qualified majority of the member states.

In case of unforeseeable events endangering national security or public order - such as a terrorist attack or a nuclear disaster prompting a massive flow of people - member states are allowed to temporarily put in place border checks for a limited period of time, before asking the EU commission and other member states to prolong it.

In the current draft, the number of days is limited to five, after which governments either have to lift the restrictions or go through the EU decision-making process. But EU sources say the number may be altered in the final proposal, due to be presented on 13 September.

"It is a very brave proposal, to come up with something so pro-European at a time when everybody is going back to nation states," one EU source told this website.

The reformist drive was prompted earlier this year by a French decision to deploy border guards and push back Tunisian migrants which had previously arrived in Italy and were granted temporary residence permits.

Denmark

Under pressure from its anti-immigrant coalition ally, the Danish government also introduced "reinforced customs checks" at its German and Swedish borders, with migration and crime being a hot topic ahead of the general elections on 15 September.

Stressing that the proposals were asked for by EU leaders in the summer and are not a direct reaction to the Danish moves, Cercone noted that the border-free zone is currently "an area of common interest being governed by individual decisions."

"This has to change," he said. We have to move to a European system if we want Schengen to be safeguarded and guaranteed."

Having stronger safeguards in place - the possibility to temporarily suspend a country from the Schengen area if it cannot take care of its borders - may also help Romania and Bulgaria to join, he argued. The two countries had hoped to be part of the border-free area this year, but strong opposition from France, Germany and the Netherlands have thwarted those plans.

In an interview with the Muenchener Merkur newspaper, German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich on Tuesday said that "a full membership with the complete lifting of personal controls is out of the question at the moment."

But he did not exclude a phased-in approach, with Bulgarian and Romanian airports being included in Schengen first and land borders lifted at a later stage. This was also the case for the nine eastern European states and Malta who joined the area in 2007. Back then, however, land borders came first, at the end of 2007, followed by airports in March 2008.

Barroso moots return of internal EU borders

The re-instatement of European border controls to tackle a wave of immigration from northern Africa is a "possibility", European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has suggested.

Denmark's border controls 'insufficiently justified', says commission

The European Commission on Monday warned Denmark it had given insufficient grounds for taking the controversial step of re-introducing border controls and said further EU monitoring is needed. Danish foreign minister Lene Espersen said there was a lot of "misunderstanding" around the issue.

Analysis

Heading towards a change of government in Denmark

The leader of the Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is the favourite to win the election in Denmark on Thursday. She will have a tough challenge. She is leading a party that is on its way towards a disappointing result, and she will have to lead a disconnected coalition.

EU border agency gets extra powers

The European Parliament on Tuesday agreed to extend the powers of Frontex, the bloc's border agency and insisted on some provisions reinforcing migrants' rights. Groups dealing with refugees say the measures merely scrape the surface of the problem.

Commission pushes for 'europeanisation' of border controls

The EU commission is pressing ahead with a controversial draft bill on 'europeanising' the way border checks are introduced. Snap checks from Brussels to see how borders are managed in member states are also part of the proposal to be published Friday.

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