Wednesday

29th Jan 2020

France and Commission push to fortify Schengen

  • At the Hungarian border, one of the EU's external borders. (Photo: Dan Lantner)

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, France and the European Commission are pushing for intensified measures on fighting terrorism and radicalisation as well as on border controls and arms regulations.

Ahead of an extraordinary meeting of interior ministers to be held on Friday (20 November), French authorities are asking for a strengthening of existing regulations and a quick adoption of plans already in the EU pipelines.

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In a document seen by EUobserver, France is asking firstly for a quick adoption of PNR (Passenger Name Record), the EU airlines passengers data base. It wants PNT to be extended to internal EU flights, with data stored for one year.

PNR is currently being formally discussed among the commission, the member states and the EU Parliament. The plan has been strongly opposed by some MEPs over concerns about the protection of personal data.

"It is of crucial importance to finalize work on a EU PNR before the end of this year," migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said at a press conference Wednesday.

"PNR would help to identify all individuals who cross the EU's external borders," an EU official said. "It would let security services know who is on a plane up to 48 hours before the flight lands, and to do cross-checking."

Systematic controls

France is demanding that "systematic, coordinated and strengthened checks" be carried out on EU citizens at the EU's external borders and that EU security databases be "systematically consulted" by member states.

The issue could trigger some discussion among ministers on Friday, as some member states are far from being in a position to meet France's demand.

"Controls at external borders are mandatory for all travel documents, but they are not systematically applied in all countries because of a lack of capacities or of organisation," an EU official said.

France is also demanding that the EU quickly create a European border and coast guard, adopt the 'Smart Borders' package, and step up measures against the financing of terrorism.

At a press conference Wednesday, migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said that the commission will present its proposals for a border guard in December, for Smart Borders next spring, and for financing "in the weeks to come".

In the document circulated in Brussels, France is demanding that "control of the most exposed external borders be quickly strengthened – and first among them, the Greek-Turkish border, which is the main point of irregular entries to the EU".

France is also proposing that rapid intervention teams be deployed "when Schengen evaluations or risk analysis justify it".

As the renewed terrorism threat merges with the migration crisis, the European Commission ruled out any change to Schengen rules.

"Schengen is not the problem," Avramopoulos said.

The commissioner insisted that although "certain things have to be improved and revised", the EU executive "does not intend to open a discussion" on Schengen.

Arms controls

"Schengen is the greatest achievement of European integration," Avramopoulos said. "If we put Schengen under question, it will mark a backtracking on EU integration."

While France requires action from the institutions and other member states, the commission is trying to retain the initiative on security and to push for a better implementation of Schengen rules.

"The Schengen Borders Code already provides all the tools for effective checks," Avramopoulos said.

"Member states must make full use of the Schengen Information System (SIS) in order to exchange information,'" he said, adding that "member states must upload into the SIS their own alerts regarding expulsion, refusal of entry, or removal from the territory of a member states".

The commission also announced Wednesday new measures on arms controls, which met French demands on the issue.

"We wanted stricter and more harmonised rules", industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska told reporters.

Emphasis was put on standards for deactivating weapons such as the Kalashnikovs that were used by the terrorists in Paris.

Rules on acquiring and marking weapons will also be harmonised, and some semi-automatic weapons will be banned.

EU citizens to be checked at Schengen borders

EU justice and interior ministers meeting Friday will ask the commission to change the Schengen area rules and will push for better use of technologies to control external and internal borders.

EU agrees on Schengen checks for all

EU "collective reaction must be ruthless," said French minister, as controls are to be stepped up for migrants and EU nationals.

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