Macron pleads for Schengen renegotiation, possibly with fewer members

File photo. Motorists queue on the first day more stringent provisions of the Schengen Borders Code are applied, at the Hungarian-Croatian border checkpoint of Letenye, 232 kms southwest of Budapest, Hungary, 7 April 2017. [Gyorgy Varga/EPA/EFE]

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday (25 April) he was in favour of renegotiating the EU’s internal border-free Schengen area, even if the result would be a “Schengen space with fewer countries”.

The French president made this comment while speaking in front of 320 journalists as part of his long-awaited response to nearly six months of street protests, as he laid out reform plans that could prove decisive for his political future.

Macron said that “common borders, Schengen, the Dublin accords don’t work anymore”, referring to the failure of the EU to revamp the asylum system.

The Dublin agreement foresees that the country responsible for handling the asylum request of refuges is the EU country of first entry.

The refugee crisis that has hit Europe in 2015-2016, however, has shown that most of the asylum seekers don’t want to stay in the EU country of first entry (usually Greece, Italy or Spain), and seek to reach Germany or Sweden. The ideas to reform Dublin are based on sharing the migrant burden among EU members.

Macron’s statements about refounding Schengen with fewer members is not exactly a novelty. At an informal EU summit in Salzburg last September, he took aim at the “free-riders” from the Visegrad group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia), who refuse to take migrants under the relocation schemes the Commission has put forward.

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On that occasion, he said that “the countries that are showing no solidarity will eventually have to leave Schengen and they will no longer benefit from financial aid (structural funds).”

It is, however, difficult to imagine how a similar linkage would be made under the existing EU treaties.

It is also unclear if it would be possible to refound Schengen by disbanding the existing organisation, as it has become part of the EU institutions since 1999. If a new organisation replacing Schengen is created, there is a strong possibility that it would be outside the EU remit, as Schengen initially was, from 1985 to 1999.

A Schengen with fewer members would most probably leave aside Greece, seen as a problematic member in terms of effectiveness in processing asylum requests. It would also pour cold water over the three applicant countries, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia, who are banking on Schengen enlargement, and certainly not downsizing.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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