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EU Commission Wants More Say In Border Controls

  • Rikard Jozwiak

The proposal is part of a revamp of the Schengen area rules that was prompted after France and Italy (in photo) disagreed on how to handle an influx of North African immigrants fleeing unrest earlier this year.

The proposal is part of a revamp of the Schengen area rules that was prompted after France and Italy (in photo) disagreed on how to handle an influx of North African immigrants fleeing unrest earlier this year.

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission wants more say in the possible return of internal border controls within Europe's passport-free Schengen area.

The move, unveiled on September 16, is likely to face resistance from several EU member states.

The proposal is part of a revamp of the Schengen area rules that was prompted after France and Italy disagreed on how to handle an influx of North African immigrants fleeing unrest earlier this year.

The proposal would give member states the right to unilaterally reintroduce border checks on internal Schengen borders as a last resort -- but only for a period of five days.

Any extension would need approval from the EU's executive arm.

Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said a new, more "European" approach was needed to solve contentious border issues.

"If we want Schengen ready for the current and future challenges we need to shift from an intergovernmental approach to a European-based system, where decisions are taken jointly at an EU-level," Malmstroem said. "This shift will require some courage, especially in this difficult moment of crisis when member states tend to be more national-interest oriented. But in the end moving to a truly European approach will benefit all countries and all citizens."

Countries seeking to impose controls at borders for foreseeable events such as major sporting events and political summits would also need to get prior permission from Brussels.

States could also temporarily introduce border checks with a neighbor if that country fails to protect its frontier with non-EU states.

This precautionary move can be seen as an attempt to give a quick fix to the EU's Mediterranean border. Last year, Greece had to ask other EU countries to help guard its border with Turkey, one of the largest entry points for migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

Although most member states would be keen to fix the EU's external border, there seems to be less appetite to let Brussels supervise internal borders.

Germany and France have already indicated they will attempt to water down the proposals, which need to be approved by member states.

Malmstroem said she was ready to fight her corner.

"One and a half years into my mandate, I have experienced that very few of my proposals do not lead to very heated debate because they are controversial issues, everything we deal with here," Malmstroem said.

The Schengen area consists of all EU member states apart from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and United Kingdom but includes non-EU member states Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.

Schengen has been one of the big symbols of European integration in recent decades. But it has come under strain, not only because of the sudden influx of migrants from Tunisia earlier this year.

Denmark also said it would introduce permanent border checks on its borders with Germany and Sweden.

The European Commission waited to introduce the proposal on September 16, one day after the Danish general election, which ended the rule of a center-right government and cut the influence of a strongly anti-immigration party.
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak covers the European Union and NATO for RFE/RL from his base in Brussels.​ Write to him at rikard.jozwiak@gmail.com

     

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