Interview with MEP Carlos Coelho (EPP, Portugal)
Schengen area reform: “EU institutions have to be involved”
By Manon Malhère | Monday 12 March 2012
Presented by the European Commission in September, the reform of Schengen area governance has sparked heated debate among member states, which apparently have no intention of giving up their national prerogatives. On the mechanism for temporary reinstatement of checks at internal borders in cases of exceptional pressure, a majority of states are very reluctant about the Commission’s proposal to take on more competences. As for evaluation of application of the Schengenacquis
(second proposal), many states defend the use of a legal basis (Article 70) that excludes the European Parliament. Portuguese MEP Carlos Coelho (EPP), rapporteur on the second proposal, warns very clearly that Parliament will not accept purely intergovernmental governance.
The EP has just started informal negotiations with the Danish Presidency. What do you expect from that?
Since the beginning of the previous year we have asked the Presidencies to start negotiations. The Danish Presidency has decided to open the negotiations with the European Parliament even though they have stated that it will be done informally. But we are not opening a fight about that. My main concern is that we are talking about a package. On the one hand, we have the evaluation mechanism, on the other one, the proposal for the introduction of border controls. And, apparently, the approach of the Danish Presidency is to deal with both at the same time. We are ready to do so, however, I think they have to realise that it will be difficult to reach a compromise during the six-month term of the Presidency.
Concerning the evaluation mechanism, the majority of member states question the choice of Article 77 as a legal basis and instead want to use Article 70. What are your views on that?
We believe that the Schengen area and the security of the European citizens are not only a matter for the individual member states but also for the EU. So the EU institutions should be involved. Article 70 excludes the European Parliament from the process, Article 77 includes it. However, we are not only speaking about the competences of each institution here, but about what we want with the Schengen evaluation mechanism. My concern is related to the safety of the Schengen area. If we want a mechanism that can address problems, take measures and implement them because we have to protect European citizens’ safety, we should do it under a legislative act. Article 77 is a legislative one, Article 70 is not. Under Article 70, we will stay with the mechanism currently in place, which is called peer-to-peer examination. In other words, an intergovernmental approach with no condition to impose rules on member states, with no enforcement because it only depends on them to accept or not the recommendations.
How are you going to defend the use of Article 77?
I think there is a misunderstanding in the Council regarding the legal basis. When they are speaking about the changes they are ready to accept, these ones are not legally possible under Article 70. So, after we agree on the content, we will decide what the right legal basis is. So, if we are going to make the changes in the mechanism we are asking for, it is quite clear that we have to accept Article 77. Simply because Article 70 is not enough to approve the changes we want. But if the member states intend to keep the current intergovernmental mechanism, Parliament will not support it.
Could you be more specific about what the EP wants?
Our approach is the following: with the new mechanism, we will ensure the transparent, effective and consistent implementation of the Schengen
acquisand we will be able to monitor whether the member states are respecting the Schengen rules or not; put in place procedures in order to ensure a rapid and appropriate response and the necessary support using different European tools; and eliminate double standards. This is a big change since in the current system, it remains secret when there is a problem at the borders, we do not know what is going on. And if the problem remains, as a last measure, the member state may be able to reintroduce border controls with the affected member state, but only in a temporary and proportional way. Also, to make the evaluation mechanism really efficient - meaning that it will check any kind of violation of the Schengen rules - we believe that it should apply not only to the external borders but also to the internal ones.
Speaking of the proposal concerning the reintroduction of border controls, which is the most problematic, in what ways do you disagree with the Council?
There are huge differences of opinion. I do not know where the red lines are for the Council. For the EP, these are clear. For instance, we do not accept immigration as a reason for reintroducing border controls. Immigration is not a threat. Of course, a flow of unexpected migrants can cause problems for the internal security of member states. But in that case the problem is linked to internal security and not to migration flows. Furthermore, we only accept the reintroduction of border controls as a last measure and as a consequence of an efficient and transparent evaluation process. Another clear red line is the balance between freedom of movement for citizens and security that we really want to guarantee. If member states only want to improve the security measures, we won’t have an agreement.