15th Jun 2021

Barroso supports 'temporary' border controls

  • Barroso. More 'temporary' border checks may soon become reality in the EU (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso indicated Monday that he would support the reintroduction of temporary border controls so long as such decisions are taken at the EU level and not unilaterally.

Establishing rules for an EU decision-making mechanism on the reintroduction of temporary border controls would "reinforce mutual trust" and reduce "unilateral" measures by member states, he said in a letter to the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, ahead of an EU summit later this week.

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While insisting that the commission "will not hesitate" to act against any measures threatening freedom of movement within the EU - an oblique reference to plans by Denmark to put permanent customs checks in place on its borders with Sweden and Germany - Barroso did concede that member states need clearer rules than the ones currently included in the Schengen code.

In his view, the solution is a "community-based" mechanism allowing for a decision "at European level" on the reintroduction of short-term internal border controls when a country is under extreme migratory pressure or fails to secure a part of EU's external borders.

Such a mechanism - with the commission playing a central role - "would further reinforce mutual trust and also reduce the need for recourse to unilateral initiatives by member states," Barroso argues.

But EU diplomats are sceptical about member states' appetite for having the EU commission involved in any decision regarding their national borders. "We don't know what community-based means. It could be that the commission reports and the council [of ministers] decides. But first we need concrete proposals," one EU source told this website.

EU leaders are likely to ask the commission to draft such proposals. The tricky discussions on who will have the last say in putting short-term border checks in place will come only later.

Currently, the Schengen code allows its 26 members to re-instate temporary border checks when public safety is at stake - for instance in case of a football championship. But after a Franco-Italian row over hundreds of Tunisian migrants passing the border between the two countries, migration may also become a criterion.

Meanwhile, the Danish Parliament is set to approve on 27 June plans laid out by the government to have "permanent customs checks" in place in order to clamp down on drug trafficking and other illicit activities on its borders with Germany and Sweden.

The plan - largely seen as a trade-off for the centre-right government to win the support of the anti-immigrant People's Party in passing a key reform of the pensions system - has irked Berlin and the commission alike.

The agreement calls for 98 new customs agents on Denmark's borders, 24-hour manned borders, four new customs houses, roads separated into six lanes, spot-checks, video surveillance and high-tech ‘contraband' scanners to come by 2014.

Germany's deputy foreign affairs minister, Werner Hoyer, wrote in an article published in all 27 EU countries last week, that EU countries considering new border controls are "playing with nationalism's fire."

In response, the Danish People's Party labelled his comments as "national neurosis" tied to Germany's Nazi past.

A previous version of this article stated that the Danish Parliament had already approved the border checks plan.

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