Sunday

21st Jan 2018

EU internal borders may be reimposed for two years

  • Schengen agreement was signed in 1985 (Photo: johnnyalive)

A proposal is being floated that would allow the reintroduction of internal borders in the Schengen free movement zone for up to two years.

Under current rules, Schengen members are not allowed to clamp down on their own borders for more than a total of six months.

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But a proposal from the EU’s Luxembourg presidency, leaked on Wednesday (2 December) by the London-based civil liberties group Statewatch, says the possibility should be extended to two years.

The Luxembourg presidency says a two-year extension should be permitted “insofar as the exceptional circumstances constitute a serious threat to public policy or internal security.”

The paper notes “one or more member states” should be able to decide to reintroduce border controls “at all or at specific parts of their internal borders.”

Steve Peers, a professor of EU and human rights law at the University of Essex, says the wording suggests this could be applied for the whole of the EU.

“It may be that not every internal border would be subject to checks, but the intention seems to be to issue a blank cheque to this effect,” he said in his blog.

The presidency move follows threats by the EU to suspend Greece from the passport free Schengen area.

The Financial Times on Tuesday reported that EU ministers and officials issued the threat, in part, because Greece is not cooperating with EU border agency Frontex.

Greece said there have been no talks on suspension “raised in the EU framework.”

But it added that some “European circles” are “promoting during the last days this hostile environment towards Greece by unacceptably threatening the country with exiting the Schengen treaty.”

The Luxembourg presidency, for its part, in the same leaked paper, says a Frontex operation should be set up in northern Greece “without delay to address severe difficulties encountered with neighbouring countries.”

The vast majority of people seeking asylum in the EU first enter through Greece before heading towards northern member states like Germany and Sweden.

The UN agency for refugees (UNCHR) says some 740,000 people arrived in Greece since the start of the year. Most cross by boat over the small stretch of water from Turkey before landing on a Greek island.

Schengen is seen as one of the EU’s biggest achievements.

First introduced in 1985, the border-free zone includes 22 out of 28 member states. Non-EU members Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are also part of the pact. The EU exceptions include Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and the UK.

EU Council chief Donald Tusk has made repeated statements that Schengen is at risk of collapse unless external EU borders like the ones in Greece are better managed.

“The only way not to dismantle Schengen is to ensure proper management of EU external borders,” he said in early November.

The inflow of asylum seekers and migrants over the past few months has seen a handful of EU member states reintroduce internal border controls and checks.

The broader debate kicked off after Germany, in mid-September, introduced checks amid a large arrival of asylum seekers transiting through Austria.

Following the German move, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia introduced similar measures. Austria also imposed controls on its shared border with Hungary.

The Dutch stepped up selective border control checks, while Sweden, in mid-November, also reinstated controls.

Hungary, for its part, imposed controls on its borders with Croatia and Serbia and erected fences on both.

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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