28th Jan 2020

Germany against 'arbitrary' re-introduction of border checks

  • A crossing point on the Dutch-German border inside the Schengen zone (Photo: Velaia (ParisPeking))

Ahead of a special meeting of interior ministers on Thursday (12 May) to discuss ways to stem migration from north African countries, Germany said it is against "everyone doing whatever it wants" when it comes to border checks.

"Under no circumstances will we accept any measure that will limit in any way the freedom of movement achieved under Schengen," German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told journalists in Berlin on Wednesday.

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The minister said the current rules are too vague, allowing countries such as France to interpret "however they want" the term "public safety" and reintroduce border checks. Paris recently started checking its borders to prevent irregular Tunisian migrants arriving in Italy from coming into France.

"Is it a matter of internal security if Tunisians board trains in Italy and come over to France? We have no clear conditions spelled out for when such measures as the re-introduction of border checks can be put in place. So this is about creating legal certainty," he said.

However, Friedrich's support for what the EU commission had also flagged up - the need to spell out when border checks can be re-introduced - did not extend having Brussels involved in the decision-making process.

"The European Commission always wants to have a say in a lot of matters, that is not new. We will see tomorrow (Thursday) during the discussions with the commissioner. But subsidiarity means that Brussels doesn't need to be involved in everything, just there where it's really needed."

Friedrich insisted that the securing of borders remains a national competence, even if the EU should be involved in establishing the rules under which temporary and "very limited" checks can be re-introduced.

Asked if the border debate is not sending a negative message to the Arab world at a time of democratic upheaval, the German minister said that it would have been a "wrong signal" to say: "We have a system of redistribution in place, you are free to come here."

Romania and Bulgaria

As for the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the border-free zone, Friedrich said that "it would be easier to accept their membership" if a clause was introduced into the Schengen rulebook allowing for the "temporary suspension" of a country from the area if it fails to secure its borders.

Brussels-based EU diplomats said this latter argument "makes sense" and that the two processes - Schengen reform and the two countries' accession should be linked. "It would be much easier to sell [to the public] the membership of Romania and Bulgaria if Schengen would be strengthened," they said.

The two countries, which joined the EU in 2007 but still need to convince member states and the EU commission that they have corruption and organised crime under control, were initially planning to become part of the Schengen area in March.

A joint Franco-German letter in December 2010 put an end to those hopes however. Paris and Berlin warned that "premature" accession would undermine trust in Schengen.

The next report by the EU commission on the state of the fight against corruption and organised crime is due in the summer. The report will be used a basis for a decision on a timeframe for letting the two countries in.

Danish checks

Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, the centre-right minority government announced a political agreement on the re-establishing of customs barracks on the borders with Germany and Sweden, in order to track down stolen cars and counterfeit goods.

The agreement is part of a wider deal on budgetary cuts and an increase in the retirement age, for which they needed support from the right-wing Danish People's Party, a fan of reinforced border controls.

A Danish EU diplomat told this website that "everything is in line with Schengen acquis" as it would consist of "random checks" by customs officials, "not passport controls." Police presence will also be reinforced in the area behind the border, the diplomat added.

In its notification sent on Wednesday to the EU commission, the Danish government also made reference to the Franco-Italian proposal of expanding the conditions under which border controls can be re-established, an EU source said.

The matter is expected to come up during Thursday's meeting.

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