Home Affairs Council
Schengen: Agreement on re-establishing intra-EU border controls
By Nathalie Vandystadt in Luxembourg | Thursday 07 June 2012
As expected, the member states’ home affairs ministers agreed in Luxembourg, on 7 June, on the possibility of re-establishing intra-European border controls when a Schengen area member country is unable to control illegal immigration at its external frontiers. The European Commission, which is calling for more powers in this respect, lost out to the Council compromise - it is now looking to the European Parliament, which has co-decision on this dossier, to grant it such powers.
Under the compromise, Greece, which is inundated with immigrants at its external border with Turkey, is the premier target. It was also a matter of priority for member states to dispose of a reform process which was born of a dispute between France under Nicolas Sarkozy and Italy under Silvio Berlusconi, over Tunisian immigrants who arrived in France with Italian papers after the fall of the regime of Ben Ali in Tunisia.
According to the Danish text, Schengen area countries could re-establish European border controls with one of their members if its management of its external borders was considered “defective,” but this could only be done as a “last resort” when preliminary European assistance had failed, and on the basis of a Commission proposal. A majority within the Council of Ministers should also agree.
Between the two rounds of the French presidential elections, the country’s former Home Affairs Minister, Claude Guéant, supported by his German counterpart, called for member states to be allowed to decide unilaterally to return to controls for 30 days before needing the agreement of other member states. Manuel Valls, the new French home affairs minister under Socialist President François Hollande, told the press he supported the compromise, but added: “I will not follow in the footseps of my predecessor”.
Otherwise, the Schengen system as it has existed since 2006 will not change much. Member states will still be able to re-establish temporary broder controls in two scenarios which could potentially threaten their internal security; firstly, in the case of “large pre-planned events,” such as the European Football Championships in Poland, where controls could be re-established for 30 days with a possible prolongation of up to six months, and secondly in the case of “emergencies,” such as a terrorist threat, or an event, such as the massacre in Norway, which obliged the non-EU country to close its borders for several days. The only change here is that controls in case of an emergency could last ten days instead of the current five, with a possible extension to two months.
Commissioner Cecilia Malmström (home affairs), who wants to play a central role in the return to controls, did not welcome the Council compromise. “We hoped for a more European mechanism,” she said at the end of the Luxembourg talks. “An external border that is not working should not be used as a pretext to close European borders.” The commissioner now hopes that Parliament will defend a Community approach.
PARLIAMENT WILL FIGHT COMPROMISE
The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz, said after the meeting of the Home Affairs Council that the EP was “deeply disappointed at the unilateral and counter-productive” behaviour of the Council of Ministers, which he said “disrespects Parliament’s powers”. On the reform of the Schengen code, member states want to circumvent MEPs by setting up a new system for evaluating the functioning of Schengen by changing the legal basis of the Commission’s proposal. “Parliament will not accept any extra reason for reintroducing border controls without a proper Community-based mechanism,” added Schultz, who is now awaiting further explanations from the Danish Presidency next week in Strasbourg.
Parliament’s Committee on Home Affairs (LIBE) is set to vote on the Schengen reform late on 11 June. n