The European Commission today (16 September) adopted a proposal that would give it a stronger role in deciding whether members of the Schengen area of borderless travel can reimpose border checks in emergencies. Several member states, including France and Germany, have already voiced their opposition to the proposal.
Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for home affairs, said in Brussels today that decision-making on Schengen had to shift from an inter-governmental approach to a European approach if Schengen was to meet future challenges. She said that most weaknesses in the Schengen system stemmed from its inter-governmental character.
The Commission is seeking to establish its right to initiate emergency measures and to reduce the scope for unilateral action by member states. The re-introduction of border checks in emergencies is currently left to each member state.
In the spring, France and Italy fought over the best way to deal with the arrival of thousands of Tunisians in Italy, many of whom tried to reach France. The Commission wants to prevent a re-run of the events of the spring, when France temporarily closed its border with Italy to keep the Tunisians out.
Today’s proposals had run into strong opposition from several member states even before Malmström presented them, following their adoption by the Commission in a written procedure this morning.
On Tuesday (13 September), the interior ministers of France, Germany and Spain said in a joint statement that the decision on reintroducing temporary border checks should remain a national prerogative.
Malmström said that she was “ready to explain and argue these proposals” with the member states.
The proposals will require the backing of MEPs and of a weighted majority of member states to become law.
Manfred Weber, a centre-right German MEP, said that the proposal was a “solid basis” for negotiations on reforming the Schengen rules and that he was “optimistic” that MEPs and member states would be able to give their backing.
Claude Moraes, a centre-left British MEP, said: “Freedom of movement across EU countries is not a national right. It is a fundamental right guaranteed to EU citizens by the Treaties which prevails over temporary national interests. Accordingly, no national government alone can take decisions affecting that right without them first being agreed at EU level.”
Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament, said that unilateral decisions to re-establish border checks should be limited “as much as possible”.