23rd Mar 2018

EU proposes three-year internal border checks

  • Terrorism and security issues have provoked Schengen border code reforms. (Photo: Reuters)

Internal border checks are likely to continue for years given a new proposal by the European Commission to reform the so-called Schengen borders code.

EU home affairs commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, told reporters on Wednesday (27 September) that the reforms were needed to address the evolving security threats in EU states.

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The latest proposal included introducing a new article, 27a, into the code that would allow EU states to prolong checks for up to a maximum of three years.

"In the case of long lasting persistent more than one year security threat, an extraordinary possibility for prolonging border controls at internal borders, for another two years is foreseen," he said.

The EU commission is at pains to keep internal borders open in the Schengen passport-free area, while at the same time balancing government demands for more police checks and border stops.

Avramopoulos has in the past warned the end of Schengen would spell the end of the European Union, but border controls have been reintroduced and prolonged almost 50 times since September 2015, compared to only 36 such cases between 2006 and 2015.

The original plan was to have them lifted by the end of 2016, but the EU commission continues to grant extensions despite the vague reasons provided by EU states to justify them.

The EU commission plans to beef up oversight and increase procedural rules that impose greater demands on member states before they can launch the new-model checks.

But the latest proposal is unlikely to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, representing member states, before the 12 November deadline when the existing internal checks in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and non-EU member state Norway must come to an end.

These checks were based on migratory flows, but the migratory pressure has eased fllowing the closure of the Western Balkan route.

The checks were also based on article 29 of the borders code, which imposed a two-year limit on them that expires on 12 November.

Instead, the five states will have to resort to another set of existing rules in the code, currently used by France, to impose the checks based on "threats to public policy and internal security".

Also known as article 25, the rules today grant an EU state the possibility to reintroduce controls for up to six months for "foreseeable circumstances."

The article has been invoked for major events like the football competitions or G-20 summits, but also for other terrorism-related security issues as in France on its border with Belgium.

Now, the EU commission wants to extend the six-month limit under article 25 to one year.

However, should the same threat to public policy or internal security extend beyond a year, then the new article 27a would allow a further prolongation of up to two years.

The two-year prolongation would only be allowed if the EU state carried out "commensurate national measures", for example, by imposing a state of emergency.

"This [two-year prolongation] can only happen on the basis of a recommendation by the Council, based on an opinion presented by the Commission," said Avramopoulos.

Earlier this year, EUobserver saw internal documents from Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Norway that aimed to justify its border controls.

Some admitted there was no problem, while others offered scant data to support their arguments.

France, meanwhile, has been in a constant of state of emergency, not seen since the Algerian War of the 1960s, following the 2015 Paris attacks.

Germany and Denmark seek to prolong border checks

Denmark and Germany have notified the EU commission of their intention to prolong internal border checks beyond the 12 November deadline when they are required to be lifted.

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Germany casts doubt on Austrian intelligence sharing

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