Asselborn: ‘only months’ to save Schengen

Jean Asselborn (L) in discussion with Donald Tusk. [European Commission]

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn believes that Europeans have “only a few months” to save the Schengen system. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

Jean Asselborn, the Luxembourgish Foreign Minister, has warned the member states against turning their backs on the Schengen system, as countries seek measures to tackle the refugee crisis. “We only have a few months in which to prevent border crossings across Europe from being closely monitored,” he told Tagesspiegel am Sonntag.

If free-movement was to be hindered by the reintroduction of border-controls or passport checks, it would be “a major setback for both the economy and citizens”, he added, referring to the large number of people who commute across the internal borders every day for work.

>>Read: Western Balkans route still preference of most refugees

Since mid-September, Germany has taken advantage of exceptions in the Schengen agreement in order to reintroduce border controls temporarily. Recently, German Minister of the interior Thomas de Maizière (CDU) told the European Commission that border controls would be extended to next Friday (13 November). If the situation does not change for the better, then the controls could be prolonged until mid-February.

Breakthrough not expected          

Asselborn, whose country currently holds the Council’s rotating presidency, warned that the member states will have to get used to an increased number of refugees arriving at their borders in the coming year. “I don’t know whether we’re over the worst of it, because, after all, the conflict in Syria is unresolved,” said Asselborn.

Before the second round of international talks on the Syrian crisis, in Vienna on Thursday (12 November), the Foreign Minister said that “miracles are not to be expected”.

Turkish accession

Asselborn also advocated EU financial support for Turkey, in order to ensure that the living conditions for refugees are improved. The €3 billion in aid requested by Ankara would be “relatively easy to raise”, he said. “Above all, we should have the courage to open chapters 23 and 24 of the EU accession talks, on fundamental rights and justice,” Asselborn added.

>>Read: Poverty-stricken Chad shows Europe how to host refugees

Additionally, he said that the EU’s external borders must be protected: “The Turkish-Greek border cannot be treated in the same way as an internal border.”

Now that Turkey is done with its parliamentary elections, Asselborn believes that it is now time for the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davuto?lu and his counterpart Alexis Tsipras to come to an agreement on joint border controls. According to Greek media, Tsipras wants to meet with both Davuto?lu and the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, on 17 November in Ankara.

This article was previously published by EURACTIV Germany.

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