Saturday

18th Nov 2017

Dutch diplomat: 'Is there a mini-Schengen plan? No'

  • Is the EU shrinking? Visitors at the mini-Europe theme park in Brussels (Photo: Miguel Discart)

The Netherlands has “no plan” for a so-called mini-Schengen area of north-western EU countries, its top diplomat in Brussels said on Monday (30 November).

But the "concept" is being floated, possibly as a threat to eastern EU members which are reluctant to take in refugees.

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The term “mini-Schengen” emerged earlier this month when Dutch newspaper reports said Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands might take the step.

The reports added the concept has been floated at lower diplomatic level as an alternative to the current 26-country Schengen area, which is facing unprecedented streams of migration.

Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem also told Dutch TV on Friday (27 November) there is lack of solidarity in the EU with those countries which are the main destinations for migrants - the richer nations in the north-west of the bloc.

He said “mini-Schengen” could be a fall-back plan if no solution is reached for “sharing the enormous burden of the influx of asylum seekers.”

“We’ll try to find solutions with 28 [EU member] countries. But if we fail - and it is difficult - then the Netherlands may have to take measures together with countries in a similar position,” said Dijsselbloem, who is also the head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers.

Het said mini-Schengen is “a concept to think about in case those 28 countries do not reach a solution.”

Some wonder why France is not being included in the mini-group. Dijsselbloem, in a separate interview with several European newspapers, also listed Sweden instead of Luxembourg in the group-of-five, even though Sweden doesn’t border any of the other four.

“Mini-Schengen does not even exist yet,” the Dutch minister said.

“There is no defined size of mini-Schengen. It does show that we are thinking about solutions that we do not want, but that we may have to find.”

Dijsselbloem's statements could be interpreted more as a threat to eastern members of the EU, some of whom have been reluctant to take part in the EU's relocation scheme, than as a real initiative.

Poland, for one, is taking it seriously.

“We don’t want these tensions inside the EU to be used as a pretext for suspending or restricting the Schengen area,” its EU affairs minister, Konrad Szymasnki, said at the EU-Turkey summit in Brussels on Sunday.

But Pieter de Gooijer, the Dutch ambassador to the EU, on Monday denied the scheme has any tangibility.

“There is no plan [by] us - I cannot speak for others - to organise, or to set up, or to go to a mini-Schengen,” he told press at a seminar organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC), a think tank in the EU capital.

“Is there a plan for a mini-Schengen? No,” De Gooijer said.

He added, however, that “it's very normal practice in the Union” to discuss political problems with countries in “similar positions.”

More home affairs meetings

De Gooijer, at the EPC event, also outlined The Netherlands’ priorities for its six-month EU presidency, starting on 1 January.

He noted that justice and home affairs ministers will meet more often, to increase trust between capitals.

“Normally, in a spring presidency, you have three justice and home affairs Council meetings. One informal, in the presidency country, and two formal ones here in Brussels. The way we’re planning things now, we're going to have six,” he said.

“This is an area where definitely the next six months, and probably the next 12 or 18 months, a lot of the political decisions and legislative work in the Union has to be done,” said De Gooijer.

“By increasing the number of meetings, thus increasing the intensity at the political level of those responsible for migration and security, one forces a process of continuous exchange of not only views, but also checking the progress made by the others and made by oneself,” he noted.

“We hope this intensifying of the contacts will establish … that we are making more real progress.”

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