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The European Parliament call for the complete restoration of the Schengen area

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Brussels, 11 June 2018

Based on a dense report by Paolo Coelho, on 30 May 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the functioning of the Schengen area, by 439 votes in favour, 157 votes against and 80 abstentions. Referring regularly to the objectives published by the European Commission, both a year ago[1] and last autumn[2], parliamentarians, faithful to their conception of what they consider to be “one of the greatest achievements of the European Union”, directly question the behaviour of certain Member States.

Listening to “gaps” of the system and the issues with a direct or indirect impact on its functioning, the European Parliament has focused on identifying the actions to be taken to ensure respect for the fundamental principle of free movement. Its observations and proposals are most often based on an link between the abolition of internal borders and the development of means of control at external borders, the basis for Schengen’s implementation.

Illegal practices

Parliamentarians believe that, since 2014, the main obstacles to the reopening of internal borders have been the behaviour of the Member States (MS). The latter, faced with the arrival of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers, their secondary movements and the fear of terrorism, have developed a “perception of threat to public order and internal security” rather than a solid proof of the real existence of such a threat to justify their closure decisions. European elected representatives believe that this drift is particularly worrying with regard to the Commission’s proposal to reintroduce controls at internal borders when a “risk is perceived”, since this perception would not be based on tangible evidence of a real threat.

European representatives believe that this deviation is disturbing regarding the Commission’s proposal to reintroduce internal border controls when “a risk is perceived”, since this perception would not be based on tangible evidence of a real threat.

The Parliamentary Assembly therefore strongly considers the fact that “a large number of extensions do not comply with the rules in force regarding their duration, necessity or proportionality, and are therefore illegal. The Parliamentary Assembly therefore regrets that the Member States have not taken the necessary measures to ensure cooperation with the other Member States concerned in order to minimise the effects of these measures, and that they have not provided sufficient justification about the reasons for these controls and information on their results, limiting the Commission’s analysis and Parliament’s scrutiny. Finally, the Parliamentary Assembly regrets that the Member States artificially modify the legal basis of the reintroduction to extend it beyond the maximum period allowed in the same factual circumstances. [3]”.

In short, for the EP, these closures and their “domino effect” are largely questionable, especially since the Member States have other means at their disposal to ensure spot checks such as, for example, targeted police checks, which are at least as effective since they are more flexible and adaptable.

A necessary strengthening of the external borders control

Recalling that, from the outset, Schengen’s force relies on the solidity of the control of external borders, Members’ criticism also concerns the lack of implementation of the instruments available to the Member States, such as the SIS or VIS. In particular, the EP considers that the reform of the Schengen Borders Code is likely to restore the full meaning of the principle of free movement within European territory and supports the development of interoperability of information systems “on a large scale” – “while establishing the necessary safeguards, in particular with regard to data protection and privacy”. It hopes that the Member States will devote sufficient resources to this, confirm their commitments to strengthening the European Border and Coastguard Agency and that the competent national authorities will cooperate with it. On the other hand, it calls on the Commission to amend the Regulation on Eurosur in view of the “major shortcomings noted in the implementation of the current Regulation”.

Addressing the challenges of migration and asylum

In the final part of this resolution, Parliament admits that some of the problems raised are not only related to the rules of the Schengen area itself but also to “associated areas of the acquis, in particular shortcomings in the area of the Common European Asylum System, a lack of political will, solidarity and shared responsibility, the Dublin Regulation and the control of external borders”.

After recalling the need to strengthen capacities to address the root causes of irregular migration, in particular through cooperation with third countries, and to improve living conditions in migrants’ countries of origin, parliamentarians therefore listed a number of proposals concerning European migration policy, including :

  • Ensure more intensive multi-purpose maritime search and rescue operations and encourage Frontex to set up a complaints mechanism
  • Ensure swift and effective return procedures, without hesitating to apply the Directive on the mutual recognition of decisions on the expulsion of third-country nationals;
  • Request Member States to “take specific measures to ensure adequate infrastructure, accommodation and living conditions for all asylum seekers“;
  • Request them “to bring their detention centres into line with the requirements in order to meet the demand for capacity and to comply with international good practices and human rights standards and conventions“;
  • Invite Member States to “honour their relocation commitments (…) in restoring order in the management of migration and encouraging solidarity and cooperation within the Union“;
  • Recall “that the opening of legal channels for migrants and refugees is the best way to combat human smuggling and trafficking and thus so-called irregular migration“;

Finally, it is not insignificant to point out that, at the turn of what looks very much like a trial against the Member States on the way in which “they considerably alter confidence in the European institutions”, the Parliament wished to reaffirm its support “for the immediate accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area, and the one of Croatia as soon as this country meets the accession criteria”, asking the Council to integrate Bulgaria and Romania as full members of the Schengen area[4].

To go further:

[1] European Commission – Back to Schengen : Commission recommends phasing out of temporary border controls over next six months, Brussels, 2 May 2017, Press release IP/17/1146 – http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-1146_en.htm

[2] European Commission : Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council “on preserving and strengthening Schengen”, Brussel, 27.9.2017 COM(2017) 570 final – http://www.cdep.ro/afaceri_europene/CE/2017/COM_2017_570_EN_ACTE_f.pdf

[3] For the record, six countries have extended the closure of their borders: Austria, Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden

[4] Report on the draft Council decision on the putting into effect of the remaining provisions of the Schengen acquis relating to the Schengen Information System in the Republic of Bulgaria and Romania
[15820/2017 – C8-0017/2018 – 2018/0802(CNS)] –http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+AGENDA+20180613+SIT+DOC+XML+V0//EN

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