Brussels, 26 May 2014
Commission reports on the state of the Schengen area
The Schengen area of free movement is a unique achievement. Each year millions of European citizens make use of the possibility to travel freely to visit friends and family, make business trips or visit other Schengen countries as tourists.
Today the Commission adopted its fifth Schengen 'health check', a biannual overview on the functioning of the Schengen area.
The report provides a clear account of the state of the Schengen area, to ensure a coherent interpretation and implementation of the common rules amongst all Schengen participating countries1.
"In a currently particularly challenging environment at our external borders, the Commission is pleased to see that concrete measures to further strengthen the Schengen area are being implemented. The biannual reports serve as basis for clear and transparent debates that are crucial for the efficacy and legitimacy of the Schengen system. It provides for an improved political guidance on relevant issues and allow for timely decisions to be taken on future developments", said Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs.
This fifth report covers the period 1 November 2013 – 30 April 2014 and assesses in particular:
The situation at the external Schengen borders
Between November 2013 and February 2014, there were 25 936 detections of irregular border crossing. This is a decrease compared to the 4 months preceding the reporting period, but a 96% increase compared to the same period one year ago (November 2012 and February in 2013). In total, the number of detections of irregular border crossings in 2013 was 107 365, 48% higher than in 2012.
The Central Mediterranean route was the main route used during 2013, having registered almost a four-fold increase in relation to the previous year (to over 40 000 detections).
Following the increase in arrivals in the Central Mediterranean area since the summer 2013 and the tragedy of Lampedusa, the Commission has proposed ways to better address migratory and asylum flows, and prevent migrants' death in the Mediterranean (IP/13/1199). The Commission is committed to ensure that actions identified by the Task Force Mediterranean will continue to be implemented.
The application of Schengen rules
The report highlights the steps Commission has taken to ensure correct application of the Schengen rules and related EU law, including respect for human dignity, principle of non-refoulement and absence of checks at the internal borders. It presents an overview of the recent Schengen evaluations that have been carried out in several participating States under the current Schengen evaluation mechanism. The preparations for the launch of the new Schengen evaluation mechanism are making good progress and the first evaluations under the new Schengen mechanism can be expected as of January 2015.
The report also addresses other recent developments in the Schengen area including going live of the European Border Surveillance System (Eurosur) and recent Communications adopted by the Commission, including the one on the EU Return Policy.
Visa issuance and security procedures
The report also presents the latest developments with regard to readmission and visa facilitation agreements and visa liberalisation, including recent amendments to the regulation 539/2001 that revised the visa reciprocity mechanism and introduced a new suspension mechanism. The state of play with regard to the use of the Visa Information System (VIS), currently operational in fifteen regions, is also presented2. The VIS is working well and by 1 April 2014, the system had processed 6.7 million visa applications, while nearly 5.6 million visas have been issued.
Since its entry into operation, on 9 April 2013 (IP/13/309 and MEMO/13/309), the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) has been functioning smoothly. Through regular Schengen evaluations and specific surveys, the Commission will continue to assess the operational state of play and the level of implementation of the system to ensure a fully efficient use of the new alert categories and functionalities.
In its Communication 'Schengen governance - strengthening the area without internal border control', the Commission announced its intention to present an overview on the functioning of Schengen to the EU institutions twice a year (IP/11/1036 and MEMO/11/606).
Commission's biannual reports provide the basis for a debate in the European Parliament and in the Council. They contribute to the strengthening of political guidance and cooperation between the Schengen countries.
The new rules allow for an early identification of possible problems and for timely solutions. The Commission is given a central role in ensuring that Member States correctly implement the Schengen rules: it will conduct evaluations together with Member States' experts and take on the responsibility for proposing recommendations for improvements if it discovers areas that could be enhanced. The Commission will also be able to make unannounced on-site visits, for example to make sure that Member States do not carry out border checks at their internal borders.
The new system also creates a possibility, in extraordinary circumstances, to temporarily reintroduce internal border controls vis-à-vis a Member State that is persistently failing to manage its external borders. This measure of last resort would be triggered by the Commission and would only take place in a truly critical situation to ensure that the problems can be resolved, while minimising the impact on free movement.
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Fifth biannual report on the functioning of the Schengen area
All the EU Member States - except UK, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Croatia, and the non EU countries Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein
The VIS has most recently been launched in Central Asia, South-East Asia and the occupied Palestinian territory (14 November 2013), as well as in Central America, North America, the Caribbean and Australasia (15 May 2014).