The European Union’s executive offered initial backing yesterday (14 September) to a Franco-German proposal to allow more permanent border checks within the bloc’s Schengen free-travel zone.
Travel in the 26-country Schengen area – which includes 22 EU countries plus non-EU Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein – is normally free of border and passport controls.
Under current rules, Schengen states can reinstate ID checks at their borders with other zone members for six months when there is a terror threat, extending that for up to two years in exceptional cases.
Five countries in the Schengen area – Germany, France, Denmark, Austria and Norway – restarted border controls after the 2015 attacks in Paris and in an attempt to control the movement of refugees and migrants arriving in the bloc in unprecedented numbers the same year.
Schengen rules allow for the reintroduction of such frontier controls for up to two years and the ones now in place expire in November. But the reintroduction of so many checks raised concerns about the collapse of the Schengen zone, seen by many in Europe as a symbol of unity and freedom.
One example is the Slovenia-Croatia border. Ljubljana says that border controls imposed by Austria “make no sense”, since the number of migrants trying to cross is very low.
Germany and France, aiming for an extension and the ability to reinstate them in future, asked the EU to change the system to extend the maximum duration to four years.
A joint proposal by Paris and Berlin, seen by Reuters, says that would be required “in the context of a long-term terrorist threat” after a raft of deadly Islamist attacks in Europe.
Diplomatic paper on future Schengen suspension rules from France, Germany, Austria, Denmark and Norway pic.twitter.com/1NurBKhKWX
— Bruno Waterfield (@BrunoBrussels) September 15, 2017
Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said there was no longer any need for temporary checks that several countries reintroduced last year as a result of Europe’s migration crisis.
But he said the Commission would present plans soon to “update” the rules when it came to security reasons, with EU sources saying that could happen in October.
“The Schengen borders code may not be sufficiently adapted to address the evolving security challenges,” Avramopoulos told a news conference in Brussels after talks with EU interior ministers.
“The Commission recognises that new security challenges have appeared in the past years, as demonstrated by the recent terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Turku,” Avramopoulos said.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told journalists after the talks in Brussels:
“We had raised this problem some time ago with my German colleague … and from what I heard from the Commissioner he indeed wants to make the Schengen code more flexible … to allow us to protect our borders against terrorism.”