Tougher European border controls proposed in migrant crisis

Brussels calls for Schengen area reforms after Covid-19 pandemic and refugee influx

Powered by automated translation

The European Commission has proposed a reform of its rules governing the movement of people and goods into and around Europe.

The move is in part a response to the Covid-19 pandemic and influx of refugees into the continent.

The EU’s executive branch has also suggested changes to the way the bloc’s external borders are managed.

It proposed new measures that member states can take when “migrants are instrumentalised for political purposes,” as the bloc has accused Belarus of doing.

“This includes limiting the number of border crossing points and intensifying border surveillance,” the Commission said.

It could also allow the registration of asylum applications to be delayed for four weeks, instead of the current 10 days. People could be held in temporary shelters at the border for up to 16 weeks while their applications are processed.

Fast-track deportations would be permitted for those not allowed in.

To stop member countries imposing ad hoc border checks between each other inside the internal Schengen travel zone, temporary controls could be reintroduced for health or security threats for six months, which could be renewed for up to two years.

Countries would have to provide an impact assessment justifying the renewal. The Commission would have to approve any extension beyond 18 months.

The Schengen area comprises 26 countries, including non-EU nations Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Six countries in the zone have kept border checks in place for the last six years, renewing them every six months to circumvent rules that they should not be permanent. They include France, which has continually had border controls for security reasons since the deadly 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

“The refugee crisis of 2015, the spate of terrorists attacks on European soil and the global Covid-19 pandemic have all put the Schengen area under strain,” said Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas.

“We have a responsibility to shore up Schengen's governance and make sure member states are equipped to ensure a rapid, co-ordinated and European response to situations of crisis, including where migrants are instrumentalised.”

“The pandemic has shown very clearly that the Schengen area is key for our economies and societies,” said Ylva Johansson, the commissioner for home affairs.

“With our proposals today, we will ensure that border controls are introduced as a last resort, based on a common assessment and for only as long as needed.

“We are giving member states the tools to address the challenges they face. And we are also ensuring we manage the EU's external borders together, including in situations where migrants are instrumentalised for political purposes.”

Updated: December 14, 2021, 5:53 PM