28th Sep 2023

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.

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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.

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