EU interior ministers agreed in principle on a corresponding reform of the schengen area of freedom of travel on thursday in luxembourg.
This will earn them a severe scolding from the EU commission and the european parliament, which must give its approval. Both demand joint decisions at the european level and threaten legal action before the european court of justice (eugh) if parliament is excluded – as planned by the ministers – from reviewing whether schengenlanders also comply with the required standards.
According to the ministers, schengen-landers should be allowed to close their borders again for more reasons and longer than before. A new "emergency clause" takes effect when large numbers of illegal immigrants enter the eu. The prerequisite was that a state – for example, greece – could no longer protect its borders despite EU aid and that the internal security of other states was "massively threatened.". Countries were then allowed to guard the borders again for two years. So far, controls of 30 days are only allowed for major events such as soccer matches and for 10 days after emergencies such as terrorist attacks. This should also be allowed in the future.
The schengen agreement guarantees freedom of travel in europe: there are normally no more passport controls at the borders of the 26 signatory states.
Federal minister of the interior hans-peter friedrich (CSU) was highly satisfied: "it is of course incredibly important as a political signal, because we can also tell our citizens: we are capable of acting when it matters, on the spot, where your security is threatened."
The european parliament, on the other hand, reacted with indignation. Friedrich’s party colleague, european deputy manfred weber, spoke of a "missed opportunity and a relapse into the past".
The people’s representatives are upset that the governments will not seek their opinion if they want to activate the new "emergency clause". The basis for this is supposed to be a recommendation by the EU commission and the EU council of ministers – but the state does not have to follow it.
"Each member state could thus decide de facto on its own whether to close its borders," commented the green group leader in the european parliament, rebecca harms. The EU interior ministers had "laid the axe to the freedom of travel, one of the greatest achievements of the european union."
Interior minister friedrich rejects the idea: "the emergency mechanism is something that can only be considered at the very, very end, as a last resort, when all else fails."
It did not smooth the waters. European parliament member weber announced that his group would submit the decision to the european court of justice (eugh) for review. EU commissioner for internal affairs cecilia malmstrom also did not rule out such a lawsuit.
Greece could become the first possible winner of the new emergency mechanism. Athens has been overburdened for years: most illegal immigrants enter europe through its border. From there they travel on to the rest of europe – including germany.
Should the greek state become incapable of acting and no longer monitor its borders, other countries could protect themselves. "The situation at the greek-turkish border in particular shows that we need a very clear mechanism for action here," said austria’s interior minister johanna mikl-leitner.
The discussion about securing the schengen borders flared up last spring when refugees from north africa began arriving in europe. After almost a year of wrangling, the EU commission has failed for the time being in its attempt to have this decision taken at the european level. Friedrich defended the plan: "it is a wrong view, if one believes that this is less europe. On the contrary, it’s more europe."