What is Happening to the Schengen Borders?

Written by | Friday, February 26th, 2016

Elspeth Guild and Team (Centre for European Policy Studies)

Amidst the ongoing migration crisis, more forceful and louder voices are being heard suggesting that an uncontrollable migration flow to Europe will lead to a breakup of one of the greatest achievements of the European integration – the Schengen area – while also undermining the fundamental pillars of the EU’s internal market – the free movement of persons, goods and services. A glimpse at the facts concerning the existing practice of the signatory states of the Schengen treaty, however, shows that only 7 countries out of 26 – namely Germany, Austria, France, Malta, Slovenia, Norway, Sweden – introduced temporary restoration of border controls in recent months and only in the case of France and Malta this decision was absolute. Some countries, such as Slovenia, were quick to withdraw border controls shortly thereafter.

Although in all these cases extraordinary measures triggered by the migration crisis were adopted by the Member States in accordance with the EU law (the Schengen Borders Code), the European Commission, which is entrusted with the right to review the conformity of national acts with the EU legislation, often opposed the justification of national states for these measures. The mere presence of migratory pressures is in itself an insufficient explanation and the appeals for solidarity by the other Member States may sound like an act of buck-passing. It is perhaps slightly surprising that it is mainly the Visegrad Four and the second-wave Eastern Enlargement countries, which are most opposed to the re-introduction of controls at the Schengen internal borders. This fact is an sufficient response to the apocalyptic prophecy foretelling the upcoming paralysis of the Schengen area – a permanent EU-wide change of the rules of movement of persons within the EU territory is conditional upon the approval of a qualified majority of the Member States, which is unrealistic.

The external Schengen border is also a controversial issue. Some call for the strengthening of its protection to the extent that it becomes almost impenetrable, others propose the establishment of a special EU agency, the European Border and Coast Guard. No matter how strict the conditions of the protection and control of the external Schengen borders will be, the concerned states must take into account that asylum seekers cannot be prevented from applying for an asylum – such a procedure would lead to frequent violations of the UN Convention on Refugees. Any controls, whether at the border or in the internal territory, must be implemented while fully respecting the principles of proportionality, non-discrimination and responsibility.

(The study can be downloaded here: https://www.ceps.eu/publications/what-happening-schengen-borders)

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