Back to Schengen: Commission takes next steps towards lifting of temporary internal border controls

Back to Schengen: Commission takes next steps towards lifting of temporary internal border controls

The Commission has today proposed a Recommendation, to be decided upon by the Council, to prolong proportionate controls at certain internal Schengen borders, namely in Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Norway for a maximum period of six months. National measures have already been introduced by these countries to address the threat to public policy and internal security resulting from the secondary movements of irregular migrants. Today’s draft Recommendation proposes to extend these measures, in line with the Schengen Borders Code, as, and despite significant progress made by Greece, not all of the serious deficiencies identified could be adequately and comprehensively addressed within the three months’ limit.

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “The Greek authorities have delivered huge efforts and there is real progress on the ground. Moreover, the EU-Turkey agreement has dramatically reduced the arrivals in Greece. However, there is still is considerable migratory pressure at our external border, and large numbers of migrants present in Greece. Therefore, as long as serious deficiencies in border management persist some internal border control measures should be maintained. We have a clear roadmap to return to a normal functioning of the Schengen zone by November and we need to get there in an orderly way. We preserve Schengen by applying Schengen.

Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Schengen is one of the greatest achievements of the European Union, and our unchanged ultimate ambition is to restore normality in the Schengen area. In the meantime, as we still face deficiencies at out external borders, this requires us to take temporary steps to allow for the extension of internal border controls exceptionally. Greece in particular, as well as countries along the Western Balkan Route, are still hosting a large number of asylum seekers and irregular migrants, who may present a risk of secondary movements. Greece has made considerable progress and is on the right path and the European Commission is continuously providing comprehensive support to the Greek authorities.”

Since a Schengen evaluation in November 2015 identified serious deficiencies in Greece’s external border management, significant progress has been made in addressing many of the issues – notably with the registration process of irregular migrants having improved greatly, both in terms of equipment and human resources. The initial implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement together with the ongoing NATO and Frontex operations has also led to a sharp decrease in the number of irregular migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Aegean into Greece.

However, at present, the Commission’s findings – also based on a Schengen evaluation visit to Greece from 10 to 16 April – show that because of some persistent deficiencies, there is still a risk of significant secondary movements which had prompted several Member States to temporarily reintroduce internal border controls. Moreover, the sustainability of the sharp drop in numbers seen over the last weeks still needs to be confirmed.

The overall functioning of the Schengen area is therefore still at risk and therefore, based on the information at its disposal, the Commission has proposed that the Council adopts a Recommendation to those Member States currently carrying out internal border controls, inviting them to continue carrying out targeted and measured controls at specific borders for a limited period of six months to address the serious threat identified. These Member States should during this period keep the controls under regular review, and adjust them to the level of threat identified.

Specifically, the Commission proposes that the Council recommends that 5 countries maintain the following internal border controls for a further period of six months:

  • Austria at the Austrian-Hungarian land border and Austrian-Slovenian land border;
  • Germany at the German-Austrian land border;
  • Denmark in the Danish ports with ferry connections to Germany and at the Danish-German land border;
  • Sweden in the Swedish harbours in the Police Region South and West and at the Öresund bridge;
  • Norway in the Norwegian ports with ferry connections to Denmark, Germany and Sweden.

These measures, foreseen under the Schengen Borders Code, act as a safeguard for the overall functioning of the area without internal border controls. The Commission’s objective is to return to a normally functioning Schengen area and to lift all internal border controls by the end of 2016, in line with the “Back to Schengen” Roadmap.

Background

The Schengen Borders Code (Article 29 – formerly Article 26) sets out a specific procedure for exceptional circumstances where the overall functioning of the Schengen area is put at risk by serious and persistent deficiencies at an EU external border. This procedure does not seek to sanction or isolate a Member State nor does it aim to exclude any Member State from the Schengen area.

Under the Schengen Evaluation Mechanism, established in October 2013, Schengen evaluations are carried out in Member States based on a multi-annual and an annual evaluation programme. Such visits can be announced or unannounced and are carried out by Commission-led teams with experts from Member States and Frontex.

Following each visit, a report is drawn up identifying any shortcomings and this is accompanied by recommendations for remedial action, with a deadline for their implementation. The Council, based on a proposal from the Commission, adopts the recommendations. As a follow-up, the Member State in question is required to submit an action plan setting out how it intends to remedy the weaknesses identified.

If serious deficiencies in the management of external borders are identified, the Commission may in addition recommend that the evaluated Member State take certain specific measures with a view to ensuring compliance with the Council Recommendation.

An evaluation of the application of the Schengen rules in the field of external border management by Greece was carried out in November 2015. The Evaluation Report, which revealed serious deficiencies in the carrying out of external border control by Greece, was adopted by the Commission on 2 February 2016. Recommendations for remedial action were adopted by the Council on 12 February 2016.

As the Evaluation Report found serious deficiencies, the Commission adopted on 24 February 2016 an implementing decision setting out recommendations on specific measures to be taken by Greece. The recommendations seek to ensure that Greece applies all Schengen rules related to management of the external border.

On 12 March 2016, Greece presented its Action Plan to remedy the deficiencies identified in the evaluation report and subject to the Council recommendations. On 12 April 2016 the Commission presented its assessment of the adequacy of the Action Plan. On 29 April 2016, Greece presented its report on the implementation of the Action Plan.

In accordance with the Schengen Borders Code, the Commission must assess on the basis of a report by Greece to be presented within three months of the Council recommendations, whether the serious deficiencies still persist. Today’s proposed Recommendation is the response to this legal obligation.

For more information

Questions & Answers: A coordinated EU approach for temporary internal border controls

Commission proposal for a Council Recommendation on internal border controls

Commission Assessment of Greek Action Plan to address border management deficiencies

Communication from the Commission: Assessment of Greece’s Action Plan to remedy the serious deficiencies identified in the 2015 evaluation on the application of the Schengen acquis in the field of management of the external border

FACTSHEET: The Schengen Rules Explained

Communication from the Commission: Back to Schengen – A Roadmap

FACTSHEET: Managing the Refugee Crisis – EU Financial Support to Greece