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4th Dec 2021

EU states push for two-year border controls

  • Border controls on travellers in Europe might stay for two years (Photo: Paolo Margari)

EU member states have asked the EU Commission to prepare for measures that allow member states to prolong temporary border controls to up to two years.

“Member states invited the European Commission to prepare the legal and practical basis for the continuance of temporary border measures through Article 26 of the Schengen code,” Dutch minister for migration Klaas Dijkhoff told journalists after the informal meeting of EU home affairs ministers in Amsterdam on Monday (25 January).

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For now, the six member states that have introduced temporary border controls, including Germany and Austria, can do so for up to six months.

But under the Article 26 procedure, controls can be prolonged for up to two years if a member state struggles with “persistent serious deficiencies in the carrying out of external border control” that place “risks” on the overall functioning of the area.

If a commission evaluation concludes that there are systemic problems in Greece, it could allow member states to reintroduce or maintain border controls.

Greece would have three months - until May, when the six-month period for temporary border controls expires - to come up with solutions.

'Protect Schengen'

If those are found to be insufficient, the member states can activate by qualified majority the procedure allowing the prolongation of border controls, with a review every six months.

“Our objective is how to protect Schengen,” said EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Besides putting extra pressure on Greece, which has struggled to control the influx of migrants into Europe, the procedure is an effort to put individual member states’ unilateral measures to introduce border controls under an EU framework.

“The member states clearly discussed Article 26 not in the context of pushing a country out, but in the context of keeping the others in with their temporary national measures,” Dijkhoff said at the press conference, referring to Greece, which has been threatened previously with suspension from Schengen.

“The current, existing deadlines to stop are not long enough to have the crisis resolved and having the countries disband their measures."

He admitted, however, that discussions over Article 26 would "not have directly have an effect on refugees".

He said measures such as relocation, resettlement, establishment of hotspots and getting better results out of the deal with Turkey were still the policies aimed at stemming the flow of migrants.

Sources refused to speculate on whether the commission’s assessment would be ready by the European Council meeting in mid-February. The report will not be made public for security reasons.

Macedonia to get help

The ministers also gave a “clear signal” to the EU Commission to explore how Frontex, the EU’s border agency, could do more to help Macedonia, which is north of Greece, on the migration route.

Frontex staff cannot be placed in a non-EU country under the current framework, so the focus will be on financial and other assistance.

EU officials highlight however that EU member states can send help on a bilateral basis to the Macedonian-Greek border, which some countries are already doing.

The ministers also discussed the commission’s recent proposal for a European border and coastal guard, which received support from a majority of member states.

A part of the proposal that suggested giving the EU power intervene at borders where there is an emergency situation even if the member state concerned does not give its consent was given a lukewarm reception.

Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Poland and Cyprus all expressed reservations, according to a source.

The member states wanted to maintain the power to decide on interventions, which in the original proposal would have been passed to the commission.

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