July 25, 2021

Brussels proposes a minimal reform project

The massive arrival of asylum seekers in 2015-2016 had led to a major reinstatement of controls at the Union’s internal borders and, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, 19 Member States again used them. Supposed to last a maximum of two years, these controls are sometimes still in force. The Schengen passport-free area, “Symbol of our way of life, a European jewel”, as defined by the vice-president of the Brussels Commission, Margaritis Schinas, is he dead?

« Non », responded in chorus, Wednesday, June 2, Mr. Schinas and the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson. While the calls, often vague, of certain States have multiplied for a “Reform” of these agreements, and that the health crisis has demonstrated their fragility, the Commission wants “Save Schengen by strengthening it”.

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Rely on Frontex

Its strategy is based on three pillars and their order of enumeration is not innocent. The first step is to further strengthen control at the external borders. “To be free to move inside space, we must strengthen our capacity for control outside”, summarizes Mr Schinas, holder of the portfolio for the promotion of the European way of life. To do this, the Union will rely primarily on the Frontex agency, which will eventually have 10,000 staff and a budget of 6 billion euros. Its management and practices are contested, but we are now content in Brussels to talk about “Systematic denigration” with regard to this institution.

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The other means proposed is the acceleration of interoperability (promised in 2019, still not achieved) between the different information systems: recording of entry and exit data, Etias project (which should make it possible to follow visitors coming from countries that do not need a visa to enter the Schengen zone). Finally, there is the procedure for registering migrants and asylum seekers before their entry into Europe, provided for by the pact on migration and asylum, presented by the Commission in autumn 2020 and still under discussion.

Second part of this strategy, « alternatives », supposed to prevent further border closures, “Uncoordinated, unnecessary and arbitrary”. Mme Johansson intends to present a “code of police cooperation” by the end of the year, and is counting on the strengthening of the Europol agency and on a common visa policy. As for the migration pact, it would limit – provided it is adopted – secondary movements of migrants. France insisted a lot on this point during the first Schengen Forum, organized in November 2020, after the attacks in Vienna and Nice. The jihadist who had killed three people with a knife in the basilica of Nice, in October 2020, entered through Italy and was able to reach France without ever being worried.

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