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European Commission - Press release

Schengen: EU Commission proposes a European approach to better protect citizens' free movement

Brussels, 16 September 2011 - The Commission proposed today to strengthen the Schengen area to guarantee free movement for the hundreds of thousands of EU citizens and third countries' nationals travelling within this territory every day. The Commission's proposals aim to put in place a more efficient and EU-based approach to Schengen cooperation. Particular challenges that may put the overall functioning of the Schengen area under strain need to be addressed in an effective and coordinated manner. The proposals provide for a stronger EU-based evaluation and monitoring system to verify and ensure the application of the Schengen rules, and for a more structured European decision-making mechanism that could allow for the temporary reintroduction of internal border controls in case of serious threat to public policy or internal security.

"'With these proposals we are safeguarding the future of Schengen. We need to ensure sound Schengen governance based on clear and transparent rules to make the system more efficient. Our proposals will introduce a European decision making system which will reinforce trust among Member States and will make the Schengen area better equipped to cope with future challenges and unforeseen events. By reinforcing its European dimension we are protecting one of the most cherished achievements of the EU: the free movement of our citizens'' said Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs.

In an area without internal borders, any challenge to the integrity of any one part of that area has direct consequences for the entire Schengen zone and for the EU as a whole. The current system, based on an inter-governmental peer review mechanism, coupled with the possibility for individual decisions taken at national level on the exceptional reintroduction of internal border controls, has proven inefficient when it comes to reinforcing mutual trust between Members of the Schengen area and to safeguarding freedom of movement in a border-control free zone. More needs to be done to reinforce the management of this common space and provide adequate support to Member States confronted with critical situations.

Together with an explanatory Communication, the Commission has therefore adopted two legislative proposals with the following aims: 1) strengthening the management of the Schengen area; 2) defining a European decision making mechanism to protect the common interest.

1) Strengthening the management of the Schengen area

The existing tools at our disposal for monitoring and remedying weaknesses are insufficient. Today's proposal – building on the revised Schengen evaluation mechanism proposed by the Commission in November 2010 (IP/11/1493) – would transform the current inter-governmental peer review approach into an EU-based Schengen governance. Announced and unannounced monitoring visits to a given Member State by Commission-led teams with experts from other Member States and Frontex will verify the application of the Schengen rules.

A report drawn up following each visit would identify any shortcomings and make clear proposals for remedial action, with a deadline for implementing them. As a follow up, the Member State in question would have to establish an action plan setting out how it intends to address these recommendations.

Another important innovation is a ''Schengen health check'' that will take place twice a year with a debate in the Council and in the European Parliament on the functioning of Schengen, based on an overview presented by the European Commission.

2) An EU-based decision making mechanism to protect a common good

The current rules, which foresee passport-free travel in 25 European countries, allow national authorities to exceptionally and temporarily reintroduce border controls in case of a serious threat to public policy and internal security. However, the Commission is convinced that, since such measures have an impact for the whole of the Schengen area, the possibility to re-introduce internal border controls should be handled at the European level in a transparent, consistent and efficient way.

Today's proposals will ensure that a mechanism for a coordinated EU response is available to protect the functioning and the integrity of the Schengen area as a whole. Under the new regime, a decision on the reintroduction of internal border controls for foreseeable events (such as an important sporting event or a major political meeting) would be taken at the European level on the basis of a proposal by the European Commission backed by a 'qualified majority' of Member States' experts. The grounds on which such a decision could be taken will remain the same as today: that the measure is necessary in order to off-set a serious threat to public policy and internal security. As a general rule, controls could then be allowed at designated borders for a renewable period of 30 days.

Member States could still take unilateral action to reintroduce controls when they are faced with unforeseen emergencies requiring immediate action, but only for a period not exceeding 5 days, after which an EU-level decision would be taken allowing for any extension.

In case of serious deficiencies in the application of the Schengen rules, such as if a Member State fails to adequately protect a part of the EU's external border, support measures including technical and financial support from the Commission, from Member States, from FRONTEX or other agencies like Europol or the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), can be taken. If, however, notwithstanding these support measures, serious deficiencies persist, a decision to allow a temporary reintroduction of internal border controls can be taken. Any such last resort measure would be taken at the EU level, thereby avoiding unilateral decisions by individual Member States and establishing a collective approach to protect our common interests.

The new proposals fully respect the right to the free movement of EU citizens and their family members. The Commission will inform the European Parliament on the outcome of the different monitoring visits in the context of the Schengen evaluation mechanism, and on any steps taken that might lead to the possible re-introduction of border controls.

The initiatives adopted today are:

  • A Communication ("Schengen governance – strengthening the area without internal border control ")

  • A proposal to strengthen the Schengen evaluation mechanism (revising the proposal made last year, see IP/10/1493)

  • A proposal to establish a mechanism for the coordinated reintroduction of controls at internal borders in exceptional circumstances (amending the Schengen Border Code).

These proposals will be examined by the European Parliament and the Council under the ordinary legislative procedure (co-decision).

For more information

Homepage of Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs

http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/malmstrom/welcome/default_en.htm

Homepage DG Home Affairs:

http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/index_en.htm

Contacts :

Michele Cercone (+32 2 298 09 63)

Tove Ernst (+32 2 298 67 64)


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