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27th Nov 2021

France pledges overhaul of EU free-travel to stop terrorists

  • French president Emmanuel Macron (Photo: Consilium)

French president Emmanuel Macron has pledged profound reform of free movement in the EU in the wake of recent terrorist attacks.

"I am in favour of a deep overhaul of Schengen," he said while visiting the Franco-Spanish border on Thursday (5 November), referring to the passport-free 'Schengen' travel zone, which covers most of the EU's 27 states.

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The recent jihadist killings in Paris, in the French city of Nice, and in Vienna, showed that "the terrorist risk is everywhere", he said.

The attackers in Paris and Vienna had lived inside Europe, but "in Nice, the terrorist who murdered three of our compatriots had crossed several borders before striking on national territory," Macron noted.

The man, from Tunisia, had come to Italy by boat, before crossing to France by train.

Meanwhile, the Vienna attacker had also crossed the border to Slovakia to try to buy ammunition, even though he had a previous conviction in Austria for planning terrorist assaults.

"We need to bolster our fight against illegal immigration and traffickers who, increasingly often, have links to terrorism," Macron said.

"We should radically overhaul Schengen to rethink its organisation, to intensify our common border protection with a real security police force at the external borders of the area, but also by strengthening the integration of our rules and ... a joint operation of our ministers in charge of internal and security matters," he added.

Macron gave no other details, but promised to submit proposals at an upcoming EU summit in December.

A French official told the Reuters news agency that Macron was counting on Austrian, Dutch, and German support for his overhaul.

The Italian foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, earlier on Wednesday, also said: "Anyone can enter a member state and cross Europe. The risk is too high, the European vulnerability too large".

Irregular entries into the EU were at much lower levels today than at the height of the migration crisis in 2015, when more than 1 million people entered the bloc.

But there were some 628,000 non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the European Union in 2019, up 10 percent on the previous year, according to European Commission data.

And several EU states, as well as the UK, have warned of a heightened risk of further jihadist attacks, amid a wave of fury in Islamic nations, following Macron's recent defence of French media and academics' right to distribute cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, deemed blasphemous by some Muslims.

EU condemns 'despicable' shooting in Vienna

Leaders in Europe condemned the terror attack in Vienna, with Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz calling it "not a conflict between Christians and Muslims or between Austrians and migrants... [but] a fight between civilisation and barbarism."

EU rules to take terror content down in an hour agreed

A partial agreement has been reached to prevent the dissemination of terrorist content online, pushing companies like Facebook or YouTube to remove or disable access to this material within one hour.

EU Commission: EU free-travel overhaul planned

Plans to reform the EU free-travel zone were already announced in September by the European Commission. On Friday, it re-stated those intentions following demands by the French president for a major overhaul.

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