24th Jan 2021

Interior ministers divided on EU border controls

  • Member states are not agreeing on how to stop irregular migration (Photo: lincolnblues)

A meeting of interior ministers on Tuesday (13 December) is unlikely to take any decision in the "messy" debate on letting the EU have a say in the temporary re-introduction of border checks to fight irregular migration.

After noting that four EU meetings in the past year have produced conclusions on how to tackle irregular migration, the outgoing Polish EU presidency plans only to report on the state of play and give suggestions to the incoming Danish presidency on how to take the debate further, according to a paper seen by EUobserver.

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"The challenges posed by the recent migratory situation clearly undermine confidence in the ability of the EU and its member states to manage migration flows across the external borders and across the EU. The internal security concerns are increasing and need to receive an effective response. But it should be emphasized that this response cannot be to the detriment to the movement of people within the Schengen area. Mobility and security must go hand in hand," the document reads.

After debate in the first half of this year on the need to reform the existing rules for re-establishing temporary border checks when faced with influxes of irregular migrants, the European Commission unveiled proposals that are a no-go for most ministers, as it would give the EU executive a right to approve such measures.

Late last year, Greece failed to guard its land border with Turkey, the main entry point for migrants trying to get into the EU, prompting the deployment of border guards from other Schengen states. France in spring put up border checks on its Italian border to block Tunisian migrants, while the previous Danish government toyed with the idea of re-establishing border checks to fight migration and crime.

According to one EU diplomat, discussions on the changing the rules of the border-free Schengen area are now "a mess". Objections relate mainly to the legal base on which the commission chose to make its proposals, linking evaluation of how states guard common borders to the ability to re-introduce internal border checks.

"There is no unanimity on changing the legal base and no majority to approve the commission's proposal. So we're stuck," the source said.

Under its proposal, the commission would need to approve temporary border checks if they are put in place for more than five days and would have a say in deciding whether a country is not guarding its borders properly - something member states claim only the European Court of Justice is competent to do.

"We need a cooling period, for the European Commission to go back and think about it and member states to consider if perhaps the status quo is not so bad after all," the diplomat concluded.

In its recommendations, the Polish presidency proposes speeding up "mobility partnerships" with Tunisia and Morocco and as soon as conditions allow it, with Egypt and Libya. The same goes for the eastern neighbours and Turkey.

"It is important to ensure the commitment of Turkish relevant authorities to the fight against illegal immigration and to strengthening border control. Other ways to achieve progress with Turkey, such as offering clear incentives to the Turkish authorities in the area of visas within the framework of the possibilities offered by the Visa Code, should be directly implemented," the paper reads.

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The Netherlands and Finland on Thursday vetoed Romania and Bulgaria's bid to join the border-free Schengen area, a move the Polish EU presidency said represented a "sad conclusion about mutual trust among member states."

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