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Strengthening the Schengen area
The Commission proposes measures aimed at ensuring consistent implementation by Member States of the Schengen area rules. It also wants to make the area of free movement better able to meet the challenges of exceptional situations through a mechanism which allows the temporary re-introduction of internal border control in the European Union (EU).
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 16 September 2011 — Schengen governance — strengthening the area without internal border control [COM(2011) 561 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
The revolutions which took place in the southern Mediterranean in the spring of 2011 led to a significant influx of immigrants into some European Union (EU) Member States. These events highlighted the need to make the Schengen area (the EU territory in which the free movement of persons is exercised) better able to react to exceptional situations.
It is clear that the external borders of Europe must be managed in an efficient and consistent manner, on the basis of joint responsibility, solidarity and greater practical cooperation.
Strengthening the management of the Schengen area
Some measures already exist to help Member States facing critical situations and to enable them to fulfil their commitments. In particular, they can obtain financial and practical support through EU funds and can address the European Asylum Support Office or the Frontex Agency which can deploy Rapid Border Intervention Teams to external borders.
Furthermore, the Commission has proposed to strengthen the Schengen evaluation mechanism. This mechanism will monitor EU countries to ensure that they apply the Schengen area rules correctly. According to the new proposed approach, monitoring will be carried out at European level through inspections conducted by Commission and Member State teams. These inspections will result in a report containing the measures to be taken by the country concerned. A follow-up procedure will be put in place to ensure that the recommendations are implemented.
Furthermore, the Commission will present a biannual overview on the functioning of the Schengen area. This overview will provide the basis for a strengthening of cooperation in the Schengen area and will increase mutual trust between Member States, which are jointly responsible for ensuring that all the Schengen rules are actually applied.
Specific support measures are proposed for cases where the evaluation of a Member State reveals serious shortcomings with regard to controls at external borders or the procedure for returning migrants to their country of origin. If the shortcomings are not dealt with, and as a last resort, a European mechanism is proposed which aims to temporarily re-introduce internal border controls.
Putting in place a European mechanism in exceptional circumstances
The Schengen Borders Code already provides the option for a Member State to re-introduce controls at its internal borders where there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security. However, this only relates to a decision taken at national level.
However, the human and economic consequences of such a decision, which affects all the people living in the Schengen area, are not limited to the Member State concerned. In order for the interests of the whole of the Union to be taken into account, the Commission proposes to establish a European mechanism which would enable the decision to be taken by the EU rather than unilaterally by one Member State.
The decision to re-introduce the internal border controls of a Member State will be taken by the Commission for renewable periods of 30 days and, in principle, for a maximum duration of 6 months. It must be a measure of last resort where all other measures have been ineffective. The decision will be taken only when a Member State is confronted by a serious threat to public policy or internal security. It may also concern:
- a short-term and largely localised situation (for example, major sporting events, high-profile political meetings or terrorist attacks);
- a situation with wider and longer-term implications, particularly in the case of serious border failure of a Member State at its external borders.
However, in emergencies, EU countries will retain the option to unilaterally re-introduce controls at their internal borders for a limited period of 5 days.
However, in the case of controls being re-introduced, the country or countries concerned must guarantee European citizens or third-country nationals residing legally in the Schengen area the right to move and live freely on EU territory. The latter may therefore still enter the territory of another Member State simply by presenting their passport, identity card or travel document.