EU poised for huge overhaul as bloc looks at reforming Schengen travel restriction

France ‘refuse to patrol Channel’ says former immigration officer

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For years, extended controls have made travelling in the Schengen area more difficult. So that the Schengen Agreement is not further undermined, the EU Commission is proposing reforms, including binding restrictions on the external borders.

For years, countries such as Denmark, Austria, France and Germany have repeatedly carried out border controls in the Schengen area.

With reference to terrorist threats, illegal migration and, most recently, the corona pandemic, some member states have repeatedly reported such restrictions to the EU Commission for years, which are then often extended.

Now the EU Commission wants to learn lessons from the threats and make the Schengen area fit for the future.

According to the proposals of the Brussels authority on Tuesday, controls in the Schengen area, which is normally free of border controls, should again become the exception.

The Schengen area, to which 26 European countries and 420 million inhabitants belong, is intended to guarantee the unrestricted movement of people in Europe.

This means that internal travel within these countries on a European Union passport is free and unrestricted.

For non-EU citizens, a single Schengen visa will allow travel to all 26 member countries during the validity of the entry clearance.

EU Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said “Schengen is the jewel in our crown,” as she boasted about the 3.5 million people who commute between Schengen member states on a daily basis.

But despite its popularity, Schengen’s integrity has been severely damaged by two recent crises: the 2015 influx of migrants and refugees and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both episodes saw many EU countries reintroducing border checks, arguing that extraordinary circumstances required extraordinary measures.

Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for home affairs, said: “I think that it’s important that member states have the possibility to temporarily reintroduce border controls when there is a severe threat towards that specific country.”

She added: “What I would like to make sure is that this is a measure of last resort. And I would also like to address the situation like the one we are in right now when we have a pandemic that is threatening all the member states at the same time.”

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The EU Commission hence proposes, among other things, that the EU states can introduce binding travel restrictions at the external borders in the event of a threat to public health.

So far, this has only been possible through non-binding recommendations.
In the event of a threat to public health or terrorism, the EU states could also authorise controls within the Schengen area.

At the same time, the EU Commission wants to ensure that such internal controls remain the exception and not the norm.

The country concerned should justify this step more precisely than before and after 18 months the commission must issue an opinion on proportionality.
The ruling will also state that all alternatives and caveats must be considered prior to enforce such privileges.

In the event that migrants are involved, as was recently observed on the border between Belarus and Poland, the EU states should be able to take further measures.

For example, the number of border crossings could be reduced.
In addition, the deadline for the registration of asylum applications is to be extended.

The common rules for the Schengen countries result from the Schengen Borders Code, which the EU Commission has now revised.

However, EU states and the European Parliament still have to agree.

The current Schengen members are: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

The UK, even when once a member of the European Union was not a member of the Schengen agreement.

Switzerland is currently the only non-EU member to be a part of the Schengen accord.

The Commission has voiced its support in favour of the applications of Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to join Schengen.

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg

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