The EU on Friday (4 March) unveiled a “roadmap” to end border controls imposed by member states because of the migrant crisis and restore by the year’s end the Schengen passport-free travel area.
Brussels has called for the creation of a European Union border and coastguard force by the summer and help for Greece to strengthen its external border, the main point of entry for refugees and migrants to Europe.
“The objective would be to lift all internal border controls by December, so that there can be a return to a normally functioning Schengen area by the end of 2016,” the European Commission said in a statement.
The 26-country Schengen area — allowing passport-free travel from Iceland to Greece — is under threat as a series of countries have reintroduced border controls to stem the flow of migrants through the bloc.
More than 1.25 million people claimed asylum in the EU last year, more than double the previous year, with 363,000 of those fleeing the civil war in Syria, EU data showed on Friday.
The Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, said that re-establishing border controls in the Schengen area could cost between five billion and €18 billion a year, equivalent to 0.05 percent to 0.13 percent of the bloc’s economic output.
“Temporary border controls not only hamper the free movement of persons, they also come with significant economic costs,” the statement said.
With Europe facing its biggest migration crisis since World War II, the European Commission’s plan says that restoring the Schengen area is “of paramount importance for the European Union as a whole.”
“In the end, our objective is to put Schengen back in order, which will happen through coordination, solidarity and reinforcement of our mutual resources,” French President Francois Hollande said on Friday at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris ahead of an EU-Turkey summit on the crisis in Brussels on Monday (7 March).
Hollande also said that Syrian refugees fleeing war in the country and who make up many of the migrants clamouring to enter Europe through Turkey and Greece were best dealt with close to their country of origin.
The European Union should make shoring up Schengen a priority, despite the strains put on it by the refugee crisis, Hollande said.