15th Jun 2021

Border checks to be allowed only under strict EU criteria

  • Malmstrom is against 'populist' responses to migration (Photo: European Commission)

A mechanism allowing for temporary and "very limited" border checks to be reintroduced between member states could be set up only if the EU commission gets a central role in the management and evaluation of the border-free Schengen area.

"Who manages Schengen today? It's the member states who evaluate themselves. But we need Frontex, the European Commission, perhaps independent experts too," EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said Wednesday during a press conference.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

She compared the border-free area with the common currency before the financial crisis, when member states were also reluctant to give away national competence and grant the EU commission a greater say in the monitoring and co-ordination of economic policies.

The proposal to "europeanise" Schengen - an inter-governmental arrangement dating back to 1985 which grew to include 25 European countries - so as to give the commission a central role in evaluating the way border checks are carried out - comes against the backdrop of calls by Italy and France for greater flexibility in re-instating border controls when faced with irregular migration.

But commissioner Malmstrom said several member states had expressed their wariness about such a move.

If approved, the mechanism allowing the "very limited" reinstating of border checks would contain 'strict rules' and require a "common EU decision" to be triggered.

"The commission would have a role in this, absolutely, yes," Malmstrom said.

But she insisted that putting border guards back in the deserted national border cabins could only be done under exceptional circumstances. She also noted that Italy, home of 60 million people is currently "not under extreme migratory pressure" after the influx of some 25,000 Tunisians to the tiny island of Lampedusa.

"Since the beginning of my political career I have been against populist solutions based on yesterday's events, but to find long-term solutions based on European values and the community method," the commissioner said.

"Secure borders does not mean we are constructing fortress Europe. Migrants are contributing a lot to EU economy, culture, they help fill the gaps of labour and address the demographic challenges," she added.

The migration row between France and Italy has also soured the debate on Bulgaria and Romania's entry to the Schengen area, already postponed in March.

Malmstrom said that both countries are fulfilling the technical criteria, but the decision is blocked by some member states "because there is no trust in the Schengen system, as it is currently governed."

If Brussels was to monitor compliance of the Schengen rules, together with independent experts, enlargement of the border-free area would be depoliticised, she argued.

EU diplomats however area sceptical that the Schengen governance reform will pass. "It will be very difficult for her to get it through. There is not much appetite among member states for more European evaluation. This will take a lot of time," one source told this website.

Liberals and Greens in the European Parliament meanwhile encouraged the commission to resist pressure from member states to "scale back Schengen" and backed its proposal to Europeanise the governance of the border-free area.

Independent experts were also critical of the Franco-Italian row. In a reportpublished by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Rome and Paris' response to the Tunisian migrants is described as a "shameful race to the bottom."

"It is not just the legal commitments of both EU member states that are at stake in this case, but also the overall consistency and legitimacy of Europe's migration policy, both internally and abroad," the report reads.

"The democratic uprisings in the North African states and the subsequent war in Libya should instead constitute a unique opportunity for all Schengen member states and the EU as a whole to develop common policy responses that put solidly into practice the principles of solidarity and the fair sharing of responsibility in migratory policy affairs," it recommends.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

LGBTI fears over new Polish member at EU institution

A letter sent to the European Economic and Social Committee by a group of cross-party MEPs fighting for LGBTi rights expresses fears that a recently-appointed Polish member may try to undermine those rights.

EU condemns Slovenian PM's harassment of journalist

Slovenia's populist prime minister Janez Janša attempted to discredit a Brussels reporter after she published a critical article about the state of media freedoms in the country. The European Commission condemned the PM's language - but refrained from naming him.

News in Brief

  1. BBC and others boycott Belarus press circus
  2. Report: EU and US to unveil aircraft subsidy truce
  3. Putin refuses to guarantee Navalny will survive jail
  4. Erdoğan agrees to pull out mercenaries from Libya
  5. EU starts sale of first bonds for Covid-19 recovery fund
  6. Germans told not to 'storm pharmacies' for Covid pass
  7. Indonesia warns Covid-19 wave may not peak until July
  8. WTO chief: 'drop trade barriers on Covid-19 treatments'


Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. China officially joins Russia as a danger to Nato
  2. German Greens face reality check amid CDU gains
  3. EU Parliament wants Europe to take lead on sea-rescues
  4. MEPs urged to end gas-funding, fix cross-border projects rules
  5. Biden in Brussels - what's in the 'in-tray'?
  6. Yemen foreign minister to EU: to stop the war, talk to Iran
  7. Brexit grumbles overshadow UK summit
  8. Former French PM to work for Russian oil firm

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us