Bavarian conservatives seek to restore EU internal border checks

Headed to Germany? African migrants protest in Turin, 2011. [Joel Schalit]

Bavaria is concerned about the growing number of refugees flooding its borders, leading the state’s ruling right-wing party to propose checks along its border with Austria. Critics are calling the move “unrealistic” and “populist”. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) is toughening its stance in the refugee debate.

According to a “Seven Point Immediate Action Programme” released on Monday (15 September), the party has initiated talks over reintroducing border checks with its Austrian neighbour.

In the document, the CSU accused Italy of allowing migrants “unhindered entry into Germany and Bavaria through Austria” and thereby infringing upon EU law.

Existing EU legal requirements must be “strictly complied with,” the programme continues. “Should this not be the case, additional border checks must be introduced within the framework of the Schengen Agreement.”

The Secretary General of the CSU, Andreas Scheuer, defended the initiative from the party’s leadership. “We cannot let the outskirts of Kiefersfelden become another Lampedusa,” he told Der Spiegel.

The Schengen System allows barrier-free movement of people across the EU’s internal borders. But it is also subject to a key principle under the Dublin III Regulation: The member state where a refugee first sets foot on EU territory must accept responsibility for this person and process their application for asylum.

“Italy must deport migrants if they do not present valid justification for asylum. Instead, the government is allowing people arriving on its shores to continue into other EU member states without a assessing their right to asylum. That’s not what we negotiated in Europe,” said Markus Ferber, a German MEP from the CSU, in a statement to

The Italian government is making its own life easy when it pushes off the complex and cost-intensive deportation process to other EU countries, he said.

Bavaria will expand stop and search operations along the border, Ferber said. “But if that does not suffice, we will need border checks again.”

CSU’s demands “unrealistic” and “populist”

Marcel Kau, European legal expert at the Research Centre Immigration & Asylum at the University of Konstanz, said he considers the criticism of Italy’s refugee policy a valid one.

While the government boasts of its Mare Nostrum Mediterranean rescue operation, the analyst said, countless migrants are allowed to travel into other EU member states without having undergone an asylum assessment.

>> Read: Upsurge in refugees may cause Germany to ‘push its limits’

Nevertheless, Kau described the demand as “unrealistic”: reintroducing internal EU border checks can happen only when a Schengen state can no longer protect its external borders, threatening the internal security of other member states.

“This urgency does not exist,” Kau said.

But CSU politician Ferber is convinced: “In parts of many large cities, the rule of law is being undermined.” Municipalities cannot tackle the growing burden of refugees, Ferber said.

Meanwhile MEP Birgit Sippel from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) said the CSU’s plans to enforce border checks because of an influx in migration is “pure populism and simply contrary to EU law”.

Internal affairs politicians from other German states are also criticising the CSU.

“Humaneness does not stop at the borders,” said North-Rhine Westphalian Internal Affairs Minister Ralf Jäger in a statement for Spiegel Online.

He called on all the relevant authorities to take on these challenges “with the necessary openness”.

Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs relegates Frontex

What’s more, Bavaria does not have the power to single-handedly reintroduce border checks. Such a decision would require approval from the German federal government, in consultation with EU member states and the European Commission.

Then, EU authorities must determine whether security breaches can be remedied by reinforcing the EU’s border control agency Frontex. If not, the Commission must propose reintroducing internal borders. Finally, the legislative act must be approved by a two-thirds majority in the Council of Ministers.

Since Schengen reforms were implemented in 2013, the EU has a considerable amount of say on the issue. These were meant to prevent a member state from simply closing its borders, like France did in 2011 or Denmark one year later.

The temporary reintroduction of border checks comes with strict criteria as a “last resort”, the Internal Affairs Ministry’s spokeswoman said. It may only be used in extraordinary circumstances, she told EURACTIV.

“In the event of a threat to the functioning of the Schengen Area, support measures for the affected Schengen state must be considered a first response, by Frontex for example,” the spokeswoman said.

The CSU is aware that its proposal can hardly be carried out politically, Ferber said. “But we want to make a clear sign. We will not let EU law be disobeyed. The Commission must put more pressure on Italy,” the conservative MEP contended.

Regional elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg all showed that immigration is considered a problem, Ferber explained, saying there is a need for “suitable measures”.

Besides the possibility of border checks, such measures include upgrading Frontex and further deportation agreements with the refugees’ origin countries.

In its immediate action programme, the CSU also calls for a special development policy fund to improve the situation in the migrants’ countries of origin.

In Germany, refugees must be given the opportunity to take up employment after three months, the document says. Their accommodation must be “provided by a joint effort between the federal, regional and municipal levels”.

Since 1999, the EU has been working to create a Common European Asylum System, and set up a border agency called Frontex.  More recently, the European Parliament examined proposals to set up a new European border management system within Eurosur, the European external border surveillance system.

But the financial and economic crisis has taken its toll on Frontex, whose funding has been cut from €115 million in 2011 to €85 million this year after pressure from Britain and other northern EU countries to curb spending during the sovereign debt crisis.

New EU rules have been agreed, setting out common standards and co-operation to ensure that asylum-seekers are treated equally in an open and fair system – wherever they apply.

But EU countries rejected a European Commission proposal that solidarity should apply and that asylum seekers from the countries mostly affected from the arrival of migrants should be relocated in other EU members.

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