The European Commission has given Germany what it wants and recommended that border controls within the Schengen area be extended. EurActiv’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.
Brussels put forward a proposal yesterday (25 October) that will see border controls extended for a further three months, allowing Germany to continue its checks on its frontier with Austria.
In the past week, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, together with some of his EU counterparts, wrote to the EU executive requesting controls within Schengen be extended through mid-November, when they were supposed to expire.
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De Maizière warned that the refugee situation is still “extremely fragile”, even if the state-of-play within Schengen has somewhat calmed down. Member states within the visa-free travel area will still be able to impose border checks on internal borders, said the CDU politician.
This development is likely to displease Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Italy, who at the recent EU summit all called for border controls to be scrapped when they expire in November.
The Commission’s recommendation, which still needs member state approval, is based on a number of factors, including “serious deficiencies” in Greece’s border management. Greece is responsible for controlling the EU’s external border with Turkey, which has been the main focus point of the refugee crisis.
Even though the EU’s much-maligned deal with Turkey has seen migrant numbers drop significantly since March, there are still 60,000 refugees waiting in Greece. Brussels was concerned that a definitive end to internal border checks would cause these people to move on from Greece towards Central Europe and beyond.
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Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans insisted that the Schengen area is a “historic achievement” that is “worth preserving”. The executive’s migration Commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said that returning to a fully-functioning Schengen area is a “clear priority”, but warned that this would only happen “as soon as the conditions allow it”.
Head of Germany’s Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) Martin Wansleben criticised the Commission’s recommendation. “A further extension of Schengen area controls is not good news for the internal market,” he told Der Tagesspiegel.
Border controls, while not bringing free movement of goods and services to a standstill, inevitably lead to delays, he added. “Travels and shipments become unnecessarily expensive,” Wansleben said, highlighting the extra expenditures that come with waiting times, congestion, more red tape, detours and additional fuel allowances.
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In addition to Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway (not an EU member, but a member of Schengen all the same) will be able to control their borders as they see fit.
Austria will be able to continue controlling its frontiers with Hungary and Slovenia, but no mention was made of the Brenner Pass, which forms the border between the alpine republic and Italy. The Brenner was the scene of many anti-border control protests earlier this year, when it was rumoured that Austria would shut down the mountain pass.