The end of an “Europe without borders”: when the exception becomes the rule

This post is also available in: frFrançais (French)

“Schengen is one of the major achievements of European integration and we are fully committed to safeguard, preserve and strengthen it. The absence of internal border control constitutes the very essence of Schengen”[1] said Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitri Avramopoulos on September 27 at the occasion of State of the Union speech. At the 19 October meeting, the European Council went in the same direction, reaffirming “their support for the Schengen system and their intention to get “Back to Schengen” as soon as possible, taking into account security interests of EU countries”.

It should be remembered that the area of free movement of persons, namely Schengen, which entered into force in 1995, is currently composed of 26 States, including 22 EU members, plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

In principle, Schengen is based on a fairly simple rule, as Mr Avramopoulos recalled : the absence of internal border controls. But since 2015, the Member States’ desire for “national sovereignty”, their fear of seeing migrants – and terrorists – “invade” them, has prompted provisional measures (sic) to close borders between certain countries. At its 2016 general meeting, the AEDH widely expressed its concern about this development.

Eighteen months later, it fears that it was right : at the insistence of some countries and the constant terrorist threat, the European Commission has indeed proposed a change in the rules adopted in 1995. It would now be a question to maintain and even extend the border controls restored by some countries.

A quick reminder of the facts : in 2015, after the Paris attacks, France announced the reestablishment of controls at its borders in order to face the terrorist threat. A measure authorized by Article 25 of the Schengen Borders Code[2] which provides that where “there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security in a Member State, that Member State may exceptionally reintroduce border control at all or specific parts of its internal borders for a limited period of up to 30 days or for the foreseeable duration of the serious threat if its duration exceeds 30 days… “. If the Schengen rules allow a reintroduction of control at internal borders, it can only be temporary, since the maximum period has been fixed at six months, with a possible renewal over 24 months.

October 31, therefore, will mark the expiration of this authorization for France. But it has already announced the extension of this “exception” until April 30, 2018. Five other countries, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Norway also control people following the influx of migrants in 2015. For these States, the authorization will end on 11 November.

Probably to avoid unnecessary discussions, the Commission proposed on September 27, to extend the authorized period of reintroduction from six to twelve months. And this period can be renewed and attain three years in total, instead of two.

It is therefore legitimate to wonder if the exception will become the rule!

The European Commission denies this : the conditions of application of the new rules will be strict and abuses sanctioned, and it will always be a “last resort” measure. The concerned country, in order to take such measures, will have to coordinate with its neighbours, have the authorization of all Member States and have convinced the Commission[3] 

Paris and Berlin have welcomed the fact that the Commission has put a reform of the Schengen Code on the negotiating table, but both question the need for the approval of other countries. Slovakia’s Minister of the Interior Robert Kalinak, for his part, deplored these proposals, fearing that free circulation, the essence of European integration, would eventually be threatened within the Schengen area. The interests of some obviously do not coincide with the interests of others!

The Commission insists: this is not a mere extension of controls but a real change of regime. And this is, in the end the most disturbing with this proposal for reform…

Considering that this approach will strengthen European coordination on internal border control and that all member states are playing by the rules of the game, the Commission seems to have somewhat lost direction. It is true that this is not the only contradiction especially if we remember that in May 2017, it recommended  thephasing out of temporary border controls[4]

The Schengen system must absolutely be preserved because, if it were put in danger, “it would be the beginning of the end of Europe[5]. On this point, the Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs cannot be wrong.

For further information