Thursday

3rd Dec 2020

EU Commission: EU free-travel overhaul planned

  • A meeting in December is planned to discuss the future of the Schengen border-free zone (Photo: wfbakker2)

The European Commission has reiterated its desire to reform the border-free Schengen area, in light of recent announcements by French president Emmanuel Macron.

"We are discussing the future of Schengen in an ongoing process and we are trying to adapt to the way it functions to the new realities," European Commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer told reporters on Friday (6 November).

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Macron last week demanded an overhaul of the Schengen zone that spans 26 countries, following the terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice.

The French president is demanding tighter border controls on the rim of the European Union, especially with Spain.

Such efforts are already in the pipeline.

The EU's border guard agency, Frontex, is deploying new agents in January to the external borders. The deployment is part of a bigger force of some 10,000 new Frontex guards.

And a meeting is also already set for December with interior ministers from across the EU. The talks have been dubbed the 'Schengen Forum', with an idea to lay out the policy priorities for a future overhaul.

The whole is part of the European Commission's recent wider revamp of the pact on migration and asylum.

"We are drawing a link between the development of Schengen, the future of Schengen and this pact," noted Mamer.

Similar remarks were made in September by president Ursula von der Leyen, when she announced the commission would propose a new strategy for the future of Schengen.

It then set itself a deadline by summer next year, noting that movement restrictions imposed by EU states because of Covid-19 will also factor into its strategy.

Internal border controls have been used by EU states since 2006.

But they picked up in pace in 2015 amid often ignored warnings by the European commission that such controls could undermine Schengen altogether, which is sacrosanct to the European Union.

The commission imposed an ultimatum to have them all lifted by 2016. Instead, it reformed the codes following German pressure to extend the checks.

Today, they are a permanent fixture.

France has imposed the internal controls for the past five years, mostly for security reasons amid an on-going state of emergency. Others like Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and non-EU state Norway also cite migratory movements as a reason.

A case study by the Transnational Institute also found that France's state of emergency, imposed since 2015, have curtailed human rights in the country and restricted the freedom of movement.

For its part, the commission could not give any evidence that such controls have improved security.

"Border controls must remain exceptional, strictly limited in time and a measure of last resort in the event that a serious threat of public policy or internal security has been established," said another EU commission spokesperson.

However, an investigation by EUobserver last December found that member states failed to produce any hard evidence. Instead, some relied on open source threat assessment reports by Frontex.

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