Thursday

20th Feb 2020

EU agrees on Schengen checks for all

  • EU states committed to make more use of Schengen and Europol databases (Photo: Paolo Margari)

The EU will change the Schengen borders code to introduce systematic checks for EU citizens at the external borders of the EU free travel area.

At an extraordinary meeting in Brussels Friday (20 November) EU justice and interior ministers asked the commission to make a proposal early next year when the commission presents its Smart Borders package to upgrade technologies at Schengen entry points.

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In the meantime, member states decided "to implement immediately the necessary systematic and coordinated checks at external borders".

That means border guards will systematically check in the Schengen Information System (SIS) whether EU travelers are considered dangerous and merit being searched by the police. Until now, only the authenticity of the passport has been verified.

The measure was pushed by France in the wake of the attacks in Paris last Friday (20 December) after it became clear that some of the terrorists travelled freely from Syria on EU passports.

"We need to check Europeans because the threat comes from within," a French official said.

'Ruthless reaction'

The meeting had been called by France after the attacks to take "urgent measures."

"Our collective reaction must be ruthless," French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said at a press conference.

"We have to put an end to promises that are not followed up on, to procrastination and tardiness," he said. "Otherwise, Europe will lose itself."

Ministers also agreed to step up the use of databases, such as the SIS, the Interpol database and national police databases, as well as new technology tools, "in the context of the current migrant crisis".

All migrants, even asylum seekers, will be checked and information on them, including fingerprints, will be put into databases.

Experts from Europol, the EU police support agency, will be deployed in the hotspots where migrants are being registered, in Greece and Italy.

Passengers record

Ministers also pressed the European Parliament to agree before the end of the year on a Europe-wide passenger names record (PNR).

They want the PNR to concern EU internal as well as external flights. They also want data to be accessible for a year, and not only for transnational crimes.

The PNR is currently being negotiated amongst member states, the commission and the parliament. The parliament, which has been critical of the plan, accepts only a PNR for external flights and with a data-retention period of just one month.

"One month is not serious," Cazeneuve said, adding that "PNR is essential to follow up on fighters returning from abroad".

Luxembourg interior minister Etienne Schneider told reporters he was confident a deal could be reached before the end of the year.

Arms trafficking

France also came with demands to curb arms trafficking, especially from the western Balkans. The commission is being asked to present an operational action plan by the end of the year, and police cooperation will be increased.


Ministers committed to increase police cooperation against terrorist fighters and on information-sharing. France and the commission complained that member states do not input into and check against the EU databases sufficiently.

Before the meeting, home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos had floated the idea of a EU intelligence agency.

But at the post-meeting press conference, Cazeneuve said they were "not here to talk about tomorrow's concept but to act today," while Avramopoulos admitted the EU agency was only "an ideal" that was not discussed.

"The voice of France was heard," the commissioner said in French about the meeting.

But if French demands are not met with quick action, normal Schengen rules could be suspended for some time.

"France will maintain border controls as long as the terrorist threat makes it necessary," Cazeneuve said.

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 ministers back air passenger data sweep

After years of talks, EU interior ministers backed a proposal to set up an EU PNR system but it still needs the backing of the European Parliament.

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