Internal border checks are likely to continue for years given a new proposal by the European Commission to reform the so-called Schengen borders code.
EU home affairs commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, told reporters on Wednesday (27 September) that the reforms were needed to address the evolving security threats in EU states.
The latest proposal included introducing a new article, 27a, into the code that would allow EU states to prolong checks for up to a maximum of three years.
“In the case of long lasting persistent more than one year security threat, an extraordinary possibility for prolonging border controls at internal borders, for another two years is foreseen,” he said.
The EU commission is at pains to keep internal borders open in the Schengen passport-free area, while at the same time balancing government demands for more police checks and border stops.
Avramopoulos has in the past warned the end of Schengen would spell the end of the European Union, but border controls have been reintroduced and prolonged almost 50 times since September 2015, compared to only 36 such cases between 2006 and 2015.
The original plan was to have them lifted by the end of 2016, but the EU commission continues to grant extensions despite the vague reasons provided by EU states to justify them.
The EU commission plans to beef up oversight and increase procedural rules that impose greater demands on member states before they can launch the new-model checks.
But the latest proposal is unlikely to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, representing member states, before the 12 November deadline when the existing internal checks in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and non-EU member state Norway must come to an end.
These checks were based on migratory flows, but the migratory pressure has eased fllowing the closure of the Western Balkan route.
The checks were also based on article 29 of the borders code, which imposed a two-year limit on them that expires on 12 November.
Instead, the five states will have to resort to another set of existing rules in the code, currently used by France, to impose the checks based on “threats to public policy and internal security”.
Also known as article 25, the rules today grant an EU state the possibility to reintroduce controls for up to six months for “foreseeable circumstances.”
The article has been invoked for major events like the football competitions or G-20 summits, but also for other terrorism-related security issues as in France on its border with Belgium.
Now, the EU commission wants to extend the six-month limit under article 25 to one year.
However, should the same threat to public policy or internal security extend beyond a year, then the new article 27a would allow a further prolongation of up to two years.
The two-year prolongation would only be allowed if the EU state carried out “commensurate national measures”, for example, by imposing a state of emergency.
“This [two-year prolongation] can only happen on the basis of a recommendation by the Council, based on an opinion presented by the Commission,” said Avramopoulos.
Earlier this year, EUobserver saw internal documents from Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Norway that aimed to justify its border controls.
Some admitted there was no problem, while others offered scant data to support their arguments.
France, meanwhile, has been in a constant of state of emergency, not seen since the Algerian War of the 1960s, following the 2015 Paris attacks.
(EUobserver) Denmark has said it would defy the European Commission on border checks if need be, opening a new front in some member states’ rebellion on migration policy.
Lars Loekke Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, told parliament on Tuesday (16 May) that the amount of people coming from Africa to Europe via Italy was “much, much too high” to reopen borders.
“We will continue border controls unless the EU miraculously finds ways to regain control of its outer frontiers and Italy curbs the flow of refugees … into Europe”, he said.
He spoke after the Commission said on 2 May that Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, and Sweden were permitted to extend border checks for a further six months, but that this would be the last time they were allowed to do so.
The five states are all members of the Schengen accord on free movement in Europe, which is enforced by the EU executive.
Rasmussen added on Tuesday that “as long as EU borders are not under control, we need to uphold our own controls”.
He said that his “own prognosis” was that “this is not a likely scenario in the next six months”.
“Nobody in my political neighbourhood is in favour of open borders to Africa, rather on the contrary … We introduced rules to protect Denmark with great success. That’s why we now have the lowest number of asylum seekers in eight years,” the prime minister, who hails from the centre-right Venstre party, said.
He spoke in reply to a question from Kristian Thulesen Dahl, an MP from the anti-EU and anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party which holds almost one in five seats in the Danish parliament.
Denmark’s neighbour, Sweden, lifted ID checks on a bridge between Copenhagen and Malmo two weeks ago, but it said at the time that it would intensify spot checks and CCTV surveillance at other crossing points.
“Border controls are still needed and need to be strengthened”, Anders Ygeman, its interior minister, said.
Almost 13,000 people came to Italy via the central Mediterranean in April – a 19 percent increase on March and a 33 percent increase on April last year, according to EU border agency Frontex.
Most of them were from Nigeria, Bangladesh, and the Ivory Coast, it said.
The numbers coming to Greece (1,200 in April) via Turkey have dropped massively after a Turkey-EU deal to keep Syrian refugees in place.
The Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration said 53,912 people came to the EU via Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Spain from 1 January to 14 May, compared to 189,075 last year.
It said 45,118 of them came via Italy compared to 32,292 last year and that at least 1,229 people drowned on that route, up from 966 last year.
The Danish statement on Tuesday came amid a bitter EU dispute over migrant relocations.
The Commission the same day warned countries such as Hungary and Poland that unless they started to take in asylum seekers from Greece and Italy by June then they would face legal action.
Hungary and Poland have taken in no one despite being outvoted in the EU Council on the burden-sharing quotas last year.
Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo told press in Warsaw on Tuesday that there was “no possibility [for Poland] to take in any refugees – that’s the government’s position”.
“We are saying very clearly: There’s no agreement by the Polish government to have forcibly imposed refugee quotas”, she said.
(Reuters) BRUSSELS: France and Germany won backing from the European Union’s executive on Wednesday for proposals to tighten security across Europe, which include giving more powers to governments to monitor frontiers with other EU states.
Both governments face elections in the coming months against nationalists who say Europe’s open internal borders are at least partly to blame for Islamist bloodshed in Berlin, Brussels and Paris. Their interior ministers wrote jointly to the European Commission this week listing ways to improve public safety.
On Wednesday, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said he welcomed the proposals, describing them as “in line with” the Commission’s thinking.
Among suggestions for closer cooperation and better data-sharing in Europe, Germany’s Thomas de Maiziere and France’s Bruno Le Roux argued for a change to EU rules to allow states to more easily impose national frontier checks inside the 26-nation Schengen zone, and for longer than is now permitted.
“Security and freedom are two sides of the same coin. Instead of relying on catchy populist slogans, we should continue, and deepen, the ongoing work on internal security to better protect European citizens,” the two ministers said.
The mass influx of migrants via Greece in 2015, as well as deadly attacks in three European capital cities, saw the German, French and other governments slap new controls on borders that had been barely policed for decades, raising questions about the survival of one of the EU’s most prized achievements at a time of mounting popular disillusion with the bloc in general.
Schengen rules are due for review and meanwhile governments and the Commission have found ways to maintain the controls if necessary on security grounds. But the two ministers suggested both extending possible exemption limits and allowing more frontier checks even in normal circumstances.
They did not give details. Other elements of the letter stressed demands for more cooperation in tracking the movements of terrorism suspects. Some of the militants who struck in Europe in the past 18 months crossed many European borders.
The ministers urged rapid implementation of agreements, such as EU states exchanging airline passenger data and instituting systematic checks on the identities of not just foreigners but also EU citizens crossing Schengen’s external borders.
(EUobserver) Germany is seeking more reasons to maintain internal border checks following a three-month extension announced earlier this week.
Speaking to reporters in Malta’s capital Valletta on Thursday (26 January), Germany’s interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said he now wants to use threats to security as an additional basis for any prolongation.
Germany had until now based such decisions on article 29 of the Schengen Borders Code to control migration inflows, but the shift towards security marks a new rationale.
“In Germany, we have an extraordinary security situation in this half of the year, just after the Berlin attack,” he said.
The Berlin terrorist attack last December had left a dozen dead and over 50 injured after a truck plowed through a Christmas market.
The security motive for extending internal border checks now puts Germany on par with France, which had imposed checks based on “foreseeable events and terrorist threats”.
His French counterpart Bruno Le Roux, made similar comments during a joint-press conference in Malta.
Le Roux said France is confronted with both migration flows and security threats, but noted that the “priority is the security of the external borders of Europe.”
But upcoming elections in France appear to have triggered a hardening stand towards the EU’s open border Schengen area.
Top French presidential contender, conservative politician Francois Fillon, vowed on Tuesday to “re-establish real controls” along the French borders given the security issues if elected in May.
The European Commission announced the three-month extensions for Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Norway on Wednesday. Those checks, first launched last summer, are also in place largely to stem migration.
The EU commission is wary of the checks given that they restrict the free movement of people, a key EU principle, along the controlled areas.
“Schengen is one of the greatest achievements of EU integration, which we must not take for granted,” said EU home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Wednesday.
Avramopoulos’s comments had followed plans to a launch €200 million programme to deal with migration issues in Libya and north Africa.
Part of the proposal included getting the UN refugee agency and International Organisation of Migration more involved in Libya in an effort to improve conditions in centres for migrants in the country.
De Maiziere, ahead of Thursday’s ministerial meeting, told reporters that refugees, in some cases, should be brought to safe places outside of Europe.
“The people taken up by the smugglers need to be saved and brought to a safe place, but then from this safe place outside Europe we would bring into Europe only those who require protection,” he said.
The minister did not indicate where those camps would be.
(Times) The Berlin market attacker fled 1,000 miles across three countries before he was stopped by a policeman’s bullet. Now Angela Merkel faces a backlash over German security.
A refugee from Syria, Ahmad al-Nadaf, was working in the back office of his Berlin supermarket on Monday evening when one of his employees came in to break the bad news.
A fellow asylum seeker had used a lorry as a lethal weapon, steering it into a bustling Christmas market and causing carnage.
Huddling around a television, the supermarket workers exchanged nervous glances.
Nadaf, 45, is one of dozens of entrepreneurial migrants to have opened shops, restaurants and other businesses that have transformed a trendy district of Berlin into “Little Syria”. Now they were wondering if terror would turn once-welcoming locals against them.
“I feel sad and angry,” said Nadaf. “I stand against this with all that I am.”
At the wheel of the lorry, Anis Amri, a Tunisian, had left 12 dead and almost 50 injured — some still in critical condition yesterday — in his bloody wake.
His attack could spell the end for chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open arms” welcome of migrants, more than 1m of whom arrived in Germany last year.
By the end of last week, the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market had reopened and Amri’s body lay in an Italian mortuary. But the fear and fury he engendered will not go away.
Besides anger at Merkel, there was growing outrage at the security failings that had allowed Europe’s most wanted man to cross the continent unhindered from Berlin to Milan, armed with a gun and without identity documents.
“We are clearly dealing with a failure of the state,” said Christian Lindner, head of the opposition Freie Demokraten, a centrist party and traditionally an ally of Merkel’s CDU. “And that cannot be tolerated.”
In a grimly familiar sequence of events, Isis claimed Amri as one of its “soldiers” and, shortly after his death, a video emerged showing him pledging allegiance to the “caliph” and vowing to slaughter infidels “like pigs”.
Like some of the other attackers to have terrorised Europe over the past two years, it turned out that Amri was a former convict and drug dealer who was suspected of having been radicalised behind bars.
There were other, more disturbing parallels with some of the men who brought carnage to Paris and Brussels.
Even before he hijacked the lorry, the Tunisian had been well known to German police. Not only that, he had been under surveillance for most of the year by Germany’s intelligence agency, whose agents had overheard him, on his bugged telephone, offering his services as a “martyr”.
They also knew he had been shopping for high-calibre weapons and Morocco’s secret police had twice warned their German colleagues, in September and October, that Amri was planning an attack.
Even America had put him on a watch list. Why were none of the warnings heeded?
From the Tunisian town of Oueslatia, Amri’s brother and father expressed “shock” at the news of his involvement in terror. But he had a long history of brushes with the law.
At 16, he had been sentenced to prison for theft. He fled on a smuggler’s boat from Tunisia to the Italian island of Lampedusa, where he sought asylum as a juvenile refugee.
He was sent to school but after a string of offences, from violent attacks on teachers and classmates to setting fire to a migrant shelter, he was imprisoned in Sicily.
Freed four years later, he joined the flow of migrants entering Germany, where he was registered under various identities, pretending to be Egyptian or Lebanese. He topped up his welfare income by selling cocaine in Berlin, where he was involved in a string of violent incidents including a stabbing.
At the same time, however, he was consorting with jihadist sympathisers, including Abu Walaa, an Islamist preacher who was arrested in November for recruiting volunteers for Isis. As a result, Amri came onto the radar of the German security police.
He could have been deported after his request for asylum was turned down over the summer. But he did not have the right identity papers — and so he was set free. Tunisia ended up sending a new passport that arrived, with unfortunate timing, just after his attack on the Christmas market.
Amri’s target seemed symbolic — located in the very heart of Berlin. The market had been set up under the towers of the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church, which was bombed during the Second World War and preserved in ruins as a warning to future generations about the horrors of warfare.
People ran screaming as the 40-ton vehicle thundered towards them, leaving a trail of blood and devastation. Then it suddenly veered back into the main road and stopped.
Police believe that Lukasz Urban, the 37-year-old Polish driver who had been seized by Amri along with the lorry, prevented a much bigger massacre by grabbing the wheel and attacking the terrorist. He paid a high price: he was stabbed and shot dead.
If Urban has emerged as the hero of the attack, Germany’s security elite have come in for heavy criticism.
In the first of several blunders, police swiftly arrested a Pakistani asylum seeker who had been seen at the market and spent hours questioning him while the real culprit had plenty of time to escape.
It was not until at least 12 hours after the carnage that police discovered his wallet under the driver’s seat of the lorry, along with his mobile phone. The delay was apparently caused by the late arrival of sniffer dogs to check the lorry for explosives before it was searched.
“From the information we’ve been getting, it’s just shocking how the authorities have worked here,” said Armin Laschet, a deputy chairman in Merkel’s CDU party, referring to the police lapses.
There was no improvement in the public mood yesterday when soldiers were photographed guarding a Christmas market in Cologne with automatic weapons that appeared to contain no ammunition.
Amri made a mockery not only of police but of Europe’s borderless Schengen area: Europe’s most wanted man was left to travel unmolested for 1,000 miles through at least three countries, taking a train from Chambéry, in France, to Turin, in northern Italy, on Thursday before slipping into Milan.
Europe’s growing army of populists, from Nigel Farage to Marine Le Pen of France, were not alone in their outrage at the spectacle of another dangerous terrorist running rings around police.
“We must abolish Schengen, re-establish serious border controls and put all mosques and Islamic centres under surveillance,” said Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s Northern League yesterday.
He was speaking on the spot where Amri was shot dead by police at 3am on Friday outside a train station in the Sesto San Giovanni suburb of Milan. He had shot at police officers, injuring one in the shoulder, after being asked to show his papers in a routine identity check.
Amri was carrying several hundred euros and some personal belongings, but no documents other than his train ticket from Chambéry. “He was a ghost, he didn’t leave a trace,” said Antonio de Iesu, Milan’s chief of police.
There was speculation that Amri had been on his way to meet an Isis contact in the district, which has a large migrant community.
Security sources say a leading Isis recruiter in and around Milan is Moez Fezzani, also known as Abu Nassim — and also a Tunisian. He is believed to have been the producer of a slick Isis video glorifying the attacks in Brussels earlier this year.
As Amri steered the lorry towards his target on Monday, Merkel was attending a ceremony to honour an association for promoting integration of migrants.
“Diversity makes us richer, not poorer,” she said. Seconds later, an aide whispered ominous news in her ear.
Merkel is now under greater pressure than ever to abandon the “open arms” migrant policy. Even before the attack, her conservative Bavarian coalition partners had been threatening to abandon her unless she agreed to a cap on the number of asylum seekers Germany processes, throwing a question mark over her chances of re-election next year.
A poll yesterday showed that her CDU had dipped 1.5 percentage points since the attack. The Alternative for Germany, an anti-immigrant party, rose two points after Markus Pretzell, one of its leading figures, referred to the attack’s victims as “Merkel’s dead”.
But the criticism was not limited to the populist camp. Joachim Herrmann, Bavaria’s interior minister, reiterated calls for “transit centres” along the German border, where migrants would be vetted before being allowed into the country.
He said that many people who had slipped into the country posing as refugees were now “deemed to be dangerous”. Some had been “specifically sent as assassins”, he added. “We must not close our eyes to this.”
Merkel has responded with a show of defiant normality. After a press conference, in which she demanded a full review of state security measures, she was photographed out shopping for groceries — including a £3.50 box of chocolates — in a supermarket near her office.
(Politico) Illegal migrants cannot be jailed merely for crossing borders within the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone, the European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday.
The ECJ was ruling in the case of Selina Affum, a Ghanian woman who was apprehended by French police as she tried to make her way from Belgium to the U.K. using someone else’s passport.
France said Affum tried to enter the country illegally and asked Belgium to take her back.
But the EU court, ruling on Affum’s appeal against detention, said the French request was against the EU’s laws on deporting migrants — the return directive.
“The return directive prevents a national of a non-EU country who has not yet been subject to the return procedure being imprisoned solely because he or she has entered the territory of a Member State illegally across an internal border of the Schengen area,” the court said in a statement.
Judges said the directive gives the migrant a chance to go home voluntarily before the use of forced removal measures, if necessary.
(RT – click to see) Belgium has temporarily abandoned Schengen rules that allow passport-free travel between some of the EU’s internal borders, as it tries to keep potential migration flow coming out of France under control.
Belgium’s Interior Minister, Jan Jambon, announced on Tuesday that the decision comes as France is looking into the option of evacuating the Calais “Jungle” refugee camp, which houses around 4,000 people. It is feared the move could trigger a new wave of migrants streaming out of the port city in northern France.
“We have informed the European Commission that we will temporarily depart from Schengen rules,” Jambon said at a press conference in Brussels. The announcement will come into effect on Wednesday.
The Schengen agreement allows ID-free travel between the 26 European countries that are party to it.
Belgium also said it will be increasing police presence along its borders to maintain control over the situation.
Jambon explained that anywhere between 250 and 290 police officers will be dispatched to various locations along the Belgian border. “We will carry out border controls at different strategic locations, at spots used by smugglers which the police have detected,” he said.
Brussels is afraid that a massive migration wave could come to Belgium from Calais, with refugees intending to use the country as staging point to cross over into the UK.
Migrants have long used areas along France’s northern coast as a jump off point for trying to cross the English Channel to the UK, but since border controls have been reinforced there, refugees have been opting for Belgian ports instead.
On Tuesday, a French court located in the northern city of Lille said it was delaying a ruling on closing down the Calais refugee camp after eight NGOs began legal proceedings to halt the evacuation until all unaccompanied minors could be given shelter.
A source in the court said “We will not know today,” adding that a decision could come on Wednesday or Thursday, according to AFP.
If evicted, the migrants will be given a week to decide between moving to a €25 million ($28 million) state-built camp nearby capable of accommodating 1,500 refugees, which consists of heated shipping containers with beds and electricity, or to one of France’s other 98 migrant centers located around the country.
On Sunday, a series of prominent British actors, including Jude Law, took part in a performance at the Jungle camp to draw attention to the plight of those facing eviction.
Meanwhile, the head of the EU’s border control agency, Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, pointed out that the Schengen agreement cannot function properly if the external EU border is not properly protected.
“In order to have a well-functioning Schengen free movement area, we need to have a well-functioning external border, which is today apparently not the case,” Leggeri said in a speech to the European Police Congress in Berlin.
He also pointed out the dangers presented by the various terrorist threats facing all EU members. “We also have to face not only migration crisis, but we also have to face terrorist threats. You know what happened in Paris two months ago, other member states are potentially targets.”
(FT) Chancellor feels strain as splinter group calls for tighter border controls.
Angela Merkel threw open Germany’s doors to desperate migrants this summer with a historic welcome.
But after more than a million poured in last year — and with another million expected this year — Germans are losing patience with their chancellor’s insistence on a European solution to the crisis. So are some of her fellow EU leaders.
The chorus of critics calling for a return to national border controls grows all the time: last week Austria, Germany’s closest ally in the crisis, announced plans for tough border controls, joining Sweden and Denmark.
In Berlin, a conservative splinter group in the chancellor’s ruling Christian Democratic Union party has appealed for a return to effective frontier checks. And Julia Klöckner, a leading CDU figure, has called for Ms Merkel’s refugee policy to be “expanded” with the setting up of border registration camps.
The chancellor is feeling the strain. At a stormy meeting last week with the Christian Social Union, the CDU’s Bavaria-based sister, Ms Merkel was clearly irritated. “I would be happy,” she reportedly said, “if you at least wished me luck.”
Time is running out for Ms Merkel. The next summit of EU leaders in mid-February is a key date — after which the chancellor says she will draw up “an interim balance” of her approach so far to the migrants crisis. That would give her time to change tack before three regional elections on March 13 and the onset of spring, when better weather could boost refugee numbers.
Deadlines have come and gone in this crisis. But the sense of urgency has deepened since the Cologne assaults by a New Year’s eve mob, in which immigrants were the chief suspects.
Not only has the Cologne scandal sharpened German concern about Ms Merkel’s open-doors approach, it has given sceptical EU partners a new argument against sharing Germany’s burden.
The government has responded by pledging stricter laws for immigrants convicted of crimes, including more deportations. This has permitted Ms Merkel to appear tough. But, as she knows, it will change little. Nobody can be deported without their home country’s co-operation — and few governments co-operate.
The key remains cutting inflows. Ms Merkel is sticking to her international approach: a scheme to share refugees across member states, stronger EU external borders, an agreement with Turkey and, ideally, peace in Syria.
Unfortunately, none of these initiatives have yet produced results. After more than 1m refugees arrived in Germany last year, up to 2,000 still arrive daily, despite the winter.
No wonder the CSU and CDU right-wingers are angry. Critics calling for border controls now speak for about 100 of the 311 CDU/CSU MPs. That is not enough to force a U-turn, let alone a resignation, but it creates the awkward impression that Ms Merkel is losing control of her own side.
Ms Klöckner’s intervention this weekend increases tensions. As CDU leader in Rhineland Pfalz, one of the three regions with elections, she needs to talk tough to win votes. But her critics have branded her proposals as an “anti-Merkel plan” even though the politician insists she remains loyal to the chancellor.
Ms Merkel argues that any German border crackdown would push refugees back into the continent’s most vulnerable region, the Balkans.
Better chaos in the Balkans than in Cologne, say her critics on the right. No, say the chancellor’s allies, Balkan chaos could trigger violence.
Even with 100 rebels, Ms Merkel would retain a big parliamentary majority: the social democrats, her coalition partners, grumble loudly but still oppose tougher border controls.
Outside the Bundestag, things are different. Despite its internal rows, the rightwing immigration-sceptic Alternative für Deutschland is rising in the polls, hitting 11 per cent in a recent survey for ZDF television.
The CDU/CSU retains a commanding lead on 37 per cent, down just 4 percentage points since last summer. But this may matter less than a chilling drop in confidence in refugee policy — down from 60 per cent to 46 per cent in a month.
There is a growing risk voters may turn the regional elections into an immigration referendum — with even solid CDU supporters protesting by backing the AfD.
That would be dangerous for Ms Merkel, whose power is rooted in the fact she is more popular than her party. The more she loses public support, the more her authority will crack. And as it cracks at home, it will crack in the rest of the EU.
” EU to Extend Internal Border Controls as Refugee Crisis Widens”
…Is that so…?
…“to prepare the legal and practical basis for the continuance of temporary border measures,”…
…”temporary border measures” ?
…that’s what the European Union interior ministers decided…
…but they are trying to convince us of something different…
…”The Art of Political Manipulation” William Riker New Haven: Yale UP 1986
…I didn’t invent what they call “positive political theory”…
…Or as it is also know the “Rational Choice School of political science”
…Rhetoric is what they call it…or verbal skill persuasion…
…In plain English it means persuading you that black is not black, but in reality dark grey…
…They have a wonderful name for it “Heresthetics”… (please see the attachment)
…What they are really telling us is that borders and checks are going to be reinstated…
…And forget about the “temporary”…
…They are here to stay…
…Whether one likes it or not…
…And you might ask why I keep writing on this…
…Because freedom of movement is supposed to be one of the great achievements of the European Union…
…As per my numerous Personal Opinions on this.
Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereira
(BBG – click to see) European Union governments prepared to prolong passport checks at some internal borders for up to two more years, as the unrelenting inflow of refugees overwhelms countries from debt-stressed Greece to economically mighty Germany.
Extended controls at borders in northern and western Europe would come as the 28-nation bloc fails to get to grips with the more than 1 million migrants who have flooded in over the past year. Near-permanent alerts of further terrorism after November’s Paris attacks add to the close-the-borders mood.
Frontier restrictions north of the Alps would put added pressure on Greece, which was still digging out from the euro fiscal crisis when it became the first European port of call for refugees hazarding the voyage from Syria through Turkey and on to the richer west.
National interior ministers decided “to prepare the legal and practical basis for the continuance of temporary border measures,” Klaas Dijkhoff, Dutch state secretary for security and justice, told reporters on Monday after an EU meeting in Amsterdam.
In practice, that would allow countries like Germany, which has EU authorization to halt traffic at some border crossings until May, to continue those checks for 18 more months. Sweden, Denmark, France, Austria and Norway — a non-EU country that takes part in the passport-free system — are also among the countries that could extend controls.
Europeans have come to see no-passport travel between 26 countries — Britain and Ireland are the main outsiders — as an entitlement. Prolonged controls, though not at all borders or of all passengers, would mark a victory for nationalist politicians who deride the EU as unable to protect its people.
Now caught up in the twin storms of debt and migration, Greece painted itself as a victim of geography. As the first stopping-off point in the EU, it has been the destination of 900,000 refugees since the start of 2015, with an average daily count of 1,910 so far this year, according to the United Nations.
While Ioannis Mouzalas, the Greek minister for migration, denounced “lies” uttered across Europe over Greece’s troubles in coping with the inflow, he also announced that long-delayed reception centers for refugees will be functional by early March.
“There’s a big and unfair blame game against Greece,” Mouzalas said. Europe, he said, has shortchanged Greece by providing smaller-than-promised numbers of everything from cots and fingerprinting machines to border guards.
Only 94 of the 66,400 migrants eligible for relocation from Greece have been sent to new homes elsewhere in Europe, with acceptances by only six countries, according to EU data. Luxembourg, the EU’s second-smallest state, has taken the most: 30.
In a further slight to Greece, the interior ministers agreed to explore offering EU help to seal the border of the Republic of Macedonia, a non-EU country on the route from Greece further north. Mouzalas called that an illegal “panic” move that would bottle up the destitute masses in Greece.
“It’s a myth that the Greek-Turkish border can’t be protected,” said Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner of Austria, which last week set an upper limit on new arrivals. Mikl-Leitner said the Greek navy has “sufficient capacity” to keep refugees out.
Fears of terrorism stalked the EU discussions. The bloc’s crime-fighting agency announced at the Amsterdam meeting that Islamic State has set up a special operations command to mastermind more attacks in Europe, drawing on training camps on European soil and with France as the most at-risk country.
The model is the simultaneous shootings at several locations in Paris in November which killed 130, with most of the bloodshed at a concert hall in eastern Paris, said the agency, known as Europol.
It is possible that similar operations “are currently being planned and prepared,” Europol said. “The wide range of possible targets in combination with an opportunistic approach of locally based groups creates a huge variety of possible scenarios for future terrorist events.”
While Syria remains the hub, Islamic State has set up “smaller scale” training camps in the EU and in the Balkans, granting local operatives greater tactical freedom to strike at will, Europol said. It found no “concrete evidence” of terrorist operatives “systematically” sneaking into Europe in the guise of refugees.
France has no evidence of terrorist indoctrination camps on its soil, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. While calling the threat level “high” in Europe and “extremely high” in France, he said the Europol assessment dates to early December and doesn’t go beyond what France has already disclosed.
“The problem isn’t national: it’s European, it’s global,” Cazeneuve said. He backed initiatives to clamp down on arms trafficking, enforce full passports on all travelers to Europe and link up passenger and criminal databases.
The terror effect of massacring unprotected civilians has led Islamic State to favor “soft targets” over infrastructure such as electrical lines, nuclear plants or transport networks, Europol said.
Whether one likes it, or not, the concept of free travel, in the Schengen Countries, without controls, is incompatible today’s terrorism and the migrants.
Yes migrants, because the large majority of them are not refugees at all…
They don’t even come from anywhere near the war affected Countries…
Eventually the concept of free travel, with border checks, for legal residents of the Schengen Countries might eventually be retained.
But things being what they are, even this light version is a problem.
Francisco (Abouaf) de Curiel Marques Pereira
(Reuters – click to see) A group of European Union countries including Germany is pushing for an extension of border controls in the Schengen free-travel zone to help cope with Europe’s migration crisis, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported.In a pre-released story, the Sunday newspaper said Austria, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark were also among those pressing for the extension of the checks on selected Schengen borders.
The initiative will be discussed at a meeting of EU interior ministers in Amsterdam on Monday, the paper reported.
If successful, it would allow Germany to prolong its border controls, due to lapse in May, for a further 1-1/2 years.
More than one million people arrived in Europe last year, mostly fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and north Africa, and the numbers show little sign of falling.
Six Schengen members, including Germany and four other EU countries, have reinstated temporary border checks in the passport-free area.
The 26-nation Schengen free travel area, a centerpiece of European integration, is under pressure from the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees trying to reach the most prosperous EU member states. Many first arrive in Greece.
Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner threatened Greece with suspension from the free-travel zone if it fails to do more to control immigration, a suggestion other EU governments, notably in Eastern Europe, have also made.
“If the government in Athens does not finally do more to secure the outer borders, then we will have to openly discuss a temporary expulsion of Greece from the Schengen area,” she told Welt am Sonntag. “It is a myth that the Greek-Turkish border cannot be controlled.”
Austria announced on Wednesday that it would cap the number of people allowed to claim asylum this year at 37,500, less than last year’s total, and reduce the ceiling annually to 25,000 by 2019.
European leaders meeting in the Swiss resort of Davos warned the EU could unravel if member states fail to agree a common approach to the refugee crisis and security challenges in the next few months.
…sure…it can get suspended for two years…and by then every one has forgotten…and by then… … it is abolished…
(Bloomberg) “There is no suspension of the Schengen system on the table here,” says Natasha Bertaud, spokeswoman for the European Commission.
* “That is not what the code foresees,” Bertaud tells
reporters on Brussels, referring to the Schengen Borders
* “What Article 26 foresees is that if we are in a situation
where we have determined that there is a persistent
deficiency at one or more of the EU’s external borders, then
the council, based on a proposal by the commission, can
adopt a decision which would allow for prolonged, temporary
controls at internal Schengen borders” for a maximum period
of two years, Bertaud says
(Guardian – click to see) Alexander Dobrindt says country can no longer show a ‘friendly face’ and must act unilaterally if fresh arrivals continue.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s transport minister has urged her to prepare to close Germany’s borders to keep out refugees, arguing that Berlin must act alone if it cannot reach a Europe-wide deal.
Alexander Dobrindt said Germany could no longer show the world a “friendly face” – a phrase used by Merkel as refugees began arriving in Germany six months ago – and that if the number of new arrivals did not drop soon, Germany should act alone.
“I urgently advise: we must prepare ourselves for not being able to avoid border closures,” Dobrindt, a member of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), told the Muenchner Merkur newspaper.
The CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), has ramped up pressure on the chancellor over her open-door refugee policythat saw 1.1 million migrants arrive in Germany in 2015.
The CSU’s leader, Horst Seehofer, told Der Spiegel magazine in a weekend interview he would send the federal government a written request within the next two weeks to restore “orderly conditions” at the nation’s borders.
Bavaria is the main entry point to Germany for refugees.
Dobrindt said: “I would advise us all to prepare a plan B” in an advance release of an interview to run in the Muenchner Merkur’s Tuesday edition.
In the Netherlands, clashes erupted late on Monday in a small town during protests against the planned opening of a centre for asylum seekers, Dutch media and officials said.
In a repeat of scenes seen in several Dutch towns and villages in the past few months amid growing tensions over the arrival of record numbers of migrants, police intervened to disperse about 1,000 people who rallied in Heesch.
It was not immediately clear from police how many people had been arrested and whether anyone was injured.
Merkel has vowed to “measurably reduce” arrivals in 2016, but has refused to introduce a cap, saying it would be impossible to enforce without closing German borders.
Instead, she has tried to convince other European countries to take in quotas of refugees, pushed for reception centres to be built on Europe’s external borders, and led an EU campaign to convince Turkey to keep refugees from entering the bloc. But progress has been slow.
Dobrindt rejected Merkel’s argument that closing borders would jeopardise the European project. “The sentence, the closure of the border would see Europe fail, is true in reverse. Not closing the border, just going on, would bring Europe to its knees,” he said.
The Schengen agreement on open borders was “temporarily suspended” in Austria Saturday as Chancellor Werner Faymann added his voice to a chorus of leaders warning that the refugee crisis threatened to pull the EU apart.
The failure of the EU to reach agreement on a fair allocation of refugees and to secure its external borders threatens not just Schengen but the European project as a whole, he said in an interview for Austria’s Österreich newspaper.
“It is extremely troubling that the EU’s complicated structures have prevented it from resolving important issues like the avalanche of refugees or the financial crisis more quickly. Every time the risk is that it is doing too little, too late,” he said.
Vienna’s move comes as Germany has begun sending hundreds of refugees backover the Austrian border ever day. Austria has already begun implementing stricter checks on its southern border with Slovenia. Refugees have to present a valid identity card and those who do not have a right to asylum, plan to travel to Scandinavia, or have been already rejected by Germany, will be denied entry.
“Anyone who arrives at our border is subject to control,” Faymann said.
The new regulations came into force Saturday. More than 3,000 migrants arriving under false identities have already been sent back since the beginning of the year, border officials reported.
“If the EU does not manage to secure the external borders, Schengen as a whole is put into question … Then each country must control its national borders,” Faymann told the newspaper, adding that if the bloc’s external borders are not secured in the near future, “the whole EU [will be] in question.”
Earlier this week, other Schengen countries, including Norway, Sweden and Denmark, also temporarily suspended the Schengen agreement and restored border control measures at their national borders.
(BBG – click to see) German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned the Schengen free-movement area is on the verge of collapse as European Union members bicker over how to cope with a record influx of refugees into the region.
Schengen is “close” to failing and the EU would face a “tremendous, enormous” threat if Germany was forced to reintroduce border controls and take measures similar to those in Sweden, Schaeuble told reporters in Brussels after a meeting of EU finance ministers.
“We can only avoid such a development if we solve the problems quicker, through better and more effective protection of the external borders and through more and more intensive support and cooperation,” Schaeuble said. “For that we will need a lot more money.”
The EU says Europeans make over 1.25 billion journeys within the Schengen zone every year, which comprises 26 countries from the Barents Sea to the eastern Mediterranean, including some such as Iceland and Norway that aren’t part of the EU. Its disintegration would send the signal to markets that the European project, including the euro, may be reversible, according to analysts including Wolfango Piccoli, managing director of Teneo Intelligence in London.
“Schengen can only work in the long term if we find a united European response to the challenge of migration” and improve protection of the EU’s outer border, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin.
A large number of EU finance ministers on Friday called for the urgent finalization of an agreement from late last year that grants Turkey 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in aid for taking in refugees from Syria.
“Time is running out,” Schaeuble said. The EU budget won’t suffice to raise funding for refugee aid in the broader region around Syria and a “coalition of the willing” should fill the gap under informal EU coordination, he said.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday also highlighted the importance of Schengen for the EU.
“Without the freedom of movement of workers, without the freedom of the citizen to travel, the euro makes no sense,” Juncker said. “What’s the point of having one currency which you can use across the continent if you can’t travel across the continent as we have been able to do up to now?”
(EUObserver – click to see) The European Commission is holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday (6 January) following the snap introduction of border control checks in northern Europe.
EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos convened the talks after Sweden introduced ID checks with Denmark, followed by a similar move by the Danes, who began border controls with Germany.
“The idea of the meeting is to improve the coordination of the countries in question in order to ensure better administration of migratory flows”, said EU commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas.
Sweden has taken in more asylum seekers per capita than any other EU state. In a bid to stem the flow, it imposed identity checks earlier this week on anyone entering the country from Denmark.
Swedish police in Skaane say fewer migrants have crossed since the measure was imposed,reports AFP.
On Monday, the day the ID checks were launched, they registered 48 arriving migrants compared to the around 200 daily arrivals averaged up until 29 December.
“We have to be prepared for the fact that people may seek other routes than the (Oresund) bridge or ferries, regardless of whether it is a Danish network behind this or individual initiatives,” coast guard spokesman Mattias Lindholm told news agency TT.
Local aid organisations and NGOs are warning the controls will create new business opportunities for smuggling gangs and endanger people’s lives.
The ID checks also ends more than 60 years of travel free restrictions between the two EU states, causing delays and headaches for thousands of commuters crossing the Oresund bridge.
Denmark, in response, then introduced a ten-day temporary border control with Germany to stem the flow of refugees heading to Sweden.
EU border law allows for such measures but only if there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security.
The commission’s preliminary assessment suggests the clampdowns appear to be covered by the rules, although when pressed, it was unable to specify how refugees entering Denmark pose a serious threat to public policy or internal security.
A commission spokesperson instead noted the legal provisions behind the Danish and Swedish decisions will be discussed at the meeting and further assessed.
“Member states must respect EU law when they perform such controls and we are currently examining the legal provisions of Sweden”, said a commission spokesperson.
Denmark’s immigration minister Inger Stoejberg, Germany’s interior ministry official Ole Schroeder, and Sweden’s migration minister Morgan Johansson, will attend the meeting.
The broader EU response to the migration and refugee crisis has been bogged down by administrative delays and political infighting between member states.
Earlier this week, the European Commission announced that only around 0.17 percent of asylum seekers arriving in Greece and Italy have been resettled so far in other EU states.
The scheme requires EU states to resettle 160,000 arrivals over a two-year period.
Launched four months ago, it noted that only 272 Syrians and Eritreans have been transferred.
“It really shows a failure of all states to properly commit themselves to this from the start”, Steve Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights programme director,told the Guardian newspaper.
(BBG – click to see) The biggest political party in Denmark’s ruling bloc says the government needs to go much further than mere ID checks on the German border.
The Danish People’s Party, on whose support Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen relies to govern, says significantly more border guards need to be posted around the country to ensure only people who pass identity checks are allowed in. It also wants to suspend the Schengen accord, which allows passport-free travel across much of Europe, and does not rule out a Danish exit.
“Schengen has de facto collapsed,” Peter Kofod Poulsen, the party’s justice affairs speaker, said in an interview. “The premise of Schengen was being able to protect” Europe’s external border. Since this is not “working at all,” there will need to be “border controls for several years to come.”
Denmark on Monday introduced temporary spot checks on its southern border with Germany, 12 hours after systematic ID controls on visitors from abroad came into force in neighboring Sweden. The move follows an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. It has also angered business groups and commuters caught in the political crossfire.
Though Rasmussen said Chancellor Angela Merkel was briefed before the controls took effect, Germany could hardly disguise its irritation. Its Foreign Ministry expressed concern that Schengen is “in danger,” after the Danish border checks were announced.
The European Union commissioner in charge of migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, is hosting a crisis meeting on Wednesday with Danish, Swedish and German officials to discuss ways of “improving coordination between countries.”
The talks come amid a fresh round of mudslinging. Sweden’s “irresponsible foreign policy has suddenly become a huge headache for Denmark,” Liberal Party immigration speaker Marcus Knuth told the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. The Danes say Sweden’s actions have forced them to impose controls on the German border.
Denmark’s willingness to anger the government of Europe’s biggest economy is easier to understand when seen in the context of Rasmussen’s reliance on the anti-immigration DPP for his political survival. Though the prime minister supports continued close collaboration with the EU, his goals on that front are at odds with the DPP’s.
Since it was founded in 1995 with a declared goal of “preserving Danish heritage,” the DPP has dominated the political agenda. Now, even the opposition Social Democrats agree to stricter immigration and asylum rules. With some 10 parties in Denmark’s legislature, the DPP enjoys the support of about one-fifth of the electorate, making it the second-biggest political group in the country.
The party has chosen to stay outside Rasmussen’s cabinet, preferring instead to pull the strings from within the ruling bloc, but without bearing the responsibility of holding office.
Morten Oestergaard, a former deputy prime minister and economy minister whose Social Liberals are one of the few Danish political movements to have criticized the hard line against immigrants, warns that the policy may end up hurting his country.
“This is a question of political leadership,” Oestergaard said in an interview. He compares Merkel’s New Year speech, in which the German leader spoke of “humanitarian obligations” and “rising to the challenges,” with Rasmussen’s warning that Denmark is “under threat” from the influx of immigrants.
“One is a leader saying we can succeed if we care and want to, and the other
is a leader cautioning the electorate they ought to be afraid,” Oestergaard said.
For a country that prides itself on its World War II record of saving Jews, Denmark’s current treatment of refugees has raised some eyebrows. Most recently, a proposal to in some cases strip asylum seekers of precious jewels triggered Nazi parallels and prompted a wave of soul-searching inside Denmark. Members of the government argued their policies had been misunderstood.
There are signs of a backlash among the electorate. According to a poll published Wednesday by Borsen, support for Rasmussen’s Liberal Party has dropped to 16.6 percent, the lowest level since 1990, while the DPP has seen its support drop from its June 2015 elections high of 21.1 percent to 19.2 percent.
(GUA – click to see) With Sweden and Denmark reintroducing border controls in a new Europe of razor-wire fences, fear of mass immigration and homegrown terror, obituaries are already being written.
During a break in a working day recently, Rainer Maring decided on impulse to take his apprentice for a mini history lesson. The pair of German painters and decorators got in the company van at lunchtime and took their ham sandwiches across the river Mosel from Germany to Luxembourg, into the vine-clad village of Schengen.
You cross the bridge from Germany into Luxembourg, turn left, and 300 metres on you’re in France – three countries in about three minutes, and not a police officer in sight. In 1985, ministers from five governments met here to launch a bold experiment in border-free travel. Cars and lorries with green dot stickers on their windshields could roam the five countries – the same three plus Belgium and the Netherlands – without passports.
The ID-free travel zone became fully fledged in 1995 and kept growing. And the village acquired unexpected pride and renown as the birthplace of a free travel regime that now embraces 26 countries from Iceland to Greece. It is known as Schengen Europe.
Maring showed the teenager the rusting iron structure erected to mark the original agreement where visitors attach padlocks and other mementos in tribute to ID-free travel, easy cross-border commuting to work, shopping binges in another country, weekends away, and beach or skiing holidays unencumbered by boring passport hassles.
But recounting the story of one of the key experiences of European integration, the painter and decorator sounded elegiac, as if describing not current realities but those of a lamented past.
“It was an ideal, that all these countries would unite and be the same and equal,” Maring sighed. “But Europe’s not working right. Now all of this is in danger. We’re going backwards. There are lots of calls to close down the borders. It’s all going wrong.”
Across the street from the iron structure, the village elders have built a little museum dedicated to the liberties of Schengen. That, too, is intended to be idealistic and uplifting but these days looks and sounds ironic, with a heavy dose of melancholy.
“The suppression of internal borders of the European Union is recognition that all the citizens of the states concerned belong to the same space, that they share a common identity,” says a proclamation stencilled on the museum wall.
In a time of the new European nationalism, of razor-wire fences and renewed border controls, of mass immigration and homegrown terror, of fear and insecurity, the stencil seems quaintly old-fashioned. Germany re-established border controls in September amid an unprecedented number of refugee arrivals, and France did the same after the Paris terror attacks.
All across Europe, the proponents of closed national societies are gaining ground against those favouring liberal, open regimes. In a sense, the museum in Schengen feels about right, an exhibition dedicated to a short-lived, historical curiosity, a provisional system that buckled and dissolved under the pressures of internal populism and external strains.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the ex-president of France who hopes to reclaim the post in 2017, has declared “Schengen is dead”. For Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, the comparison is with the decline and fall of the Roman empire: “Big empires go down if the external borders are not well-protected.”
This kind of talk is viewed as cheap and irresponsible by policymakers in Brussels who accuse mainstream national leaders of appropriating the incendiary language of far-right mavericks to try to shore up their shrinking electoral bases.
“This is the main argument we’re hearing these days – that Schengen is over,” Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign and security policy chief, told the Guardian. “It’s sad to see Europe panicking before 700,000 refugees. This is a sign of weakness.
“Schengen is different because the temptation to question it comes from inside. First it was the refugees, then terrorism. But what does Schengen have to do with terrorism? Nothing. It has in it the mechanisms that we need also to face these threats.”
Nonetheless, there is a strong sense among policymakers that national leaders in Europe lack the political will to bolster and support the Schengen system in a crisis, that they are more focused on courting voters by ignoring Schengen in favour of national remedies.
“Internal border controls will be a nightmare,” admitted an ambassador in Brussels from a large EU country. “But there are ideas about redefining the Schengen space. It’s about getting control of the Greek borders. If this doesn’t happen, some say the Schengen system could collapse fully.”
Another ambassador from a key country said: “We want to keep Schengen, but everyone has to respect the rules. The system does not work any more. It was not designed for what we have right now, hundreds of thousands of refugees.”
With hundreds of thousands having entered Greece from Turkey in 2015, the focus is on forcing Athens to tighten controls and surrender some sovereignty over its borders by passing authority to EU agencies, a quantum leap and an intolerable precedent for the present generation of nationalists.
“What does protecting borders mean in this specific case, letting people die at sea?” asked Mogherini. “Protecting borders at sea means if you see someone in difficulty you have to act.”
The widespread conviction among European governments that the system is dysfunctional means that they increasingly opt for national action. President François Hollande renewed French border controls following the Paris terror attacks while Manuel Valls, the prime minister, says France will not agree to take in any more refugees under European quota schemes pushed by Germany. The French are starting to police and ID-check transnational Schengen train traffic from Paris.
Germany, too, has re-established national border controls. The Austrians are erecting a barbed wire fence on the border with fellow Schengen member Slovenia. From Hungaryto Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia, the fences are sprouting across central and southern Europe.
In the north and east, similar processes are under way. Sweden, the most open country in Europe for immigrants, re-erected ID checks and controls on the first Monday of 2016 on its border with Denmark. Denmark followed hours later with reintroduced controls on its border with Germany so that Sweden-bound refugees would not become stuck in the country, said prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen. At the end of 2015, the newly elected nationalist government in Warsaw, reacting to the Paris terror attacks, announced it needed to take full control of its own borders.
Anti-immigrant sentiment is widespread everywhere in Europe, but nowhere is it more strident than in eastern Europe, where the governments of Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland are the nationalist cheerleaders of a closed Europe. Yet they love the benefits that Schengen brings.
Viktor Orbán, the pugnacious rightwing Hungarian leader, rarely has a good word to say about the EU, but for Schengen he makes an exception. “For Hungarians, Schengen is freedom.”
Robert Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia, runs Orbán a close second in his contempt for west European liberals. Yet there are more passport-free crossings daily between Bratislava to Vienna – a 45-minute commute to work – than anywhere else in the EU.
All across continental Europe – though not in Britain or Ireland, which remain outside Schengen – the free-travel zone long ago became part of the texture of daily life. Italians, French, and Germans go back and forth to work in (Schengen) Switzerland every day in their tens of thousands without ID checks, just some of the 1.7 million people who in 2014 commuted daily to work in another country without document checks, according to the Bruegel thinktank in Brussels.
The erosion of Schengen comes with high costs attached. “The French reintroduced border controls and there were traffic jams everywhere, three to four hours,” said Roger Weber, a former mayor of Schengen village in Luxembourg. “The impact on the economy is huge. It’s suicidal, especially at a time like this when economic prospects are poor. We can’t live with closed borders.”
And it is arguable whether the new nationalism and proliferating border controls will stem immigration or combat Europe’s homegrown terror problem. The attacks are almost invariably carried out by people with EU and Schengen passports.
Hungary’s razor wire has had no impact on the numbers reaching the EU. Orbán simply succeeded in diverting the flow to neighbouring countries.
When Mehdi Nemmouche killed four people with a Kalashnikov at Brussels’ Jewish Museum in May 2014, the French national had already been identified through the databases that are the heart of the Schengen system, although inadequately exploited. The failure was national rather than “European” or “Schengen”.
Nemmouche flew into Frankfurt after leaving Syria for Turkey and was flagged on arrival as suspicious in the Schengen databases, known as SIS and SIS-2. German police alerted the French authorities, who took no action.
The atrocity highlighted how the key to effective policing of terrorism or organised crime – both by definition transnational and cross-border – lies in pooling intelligence and automatic sharing of information by security services across the 26 countries.
“It’s not that easy to do all this,” Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator, told the Guardian. “We’re not a federal state. Intelligence is the exclusive competence of member states. And some parts of Europe don’t have the electronic equipment.”
National intelligence services in the EU share plenty of information, but they tend to do it one country to another without any systematic sharing through the common databases. National agencies are said to be highly reluctant to input information into shared EU systems for fear of betraying sources and operational methods. There is a “golden rule”, for example, that a service receiving intelligence may not share that with a third party without the permission of the agency supplying the information.
That may be changing as a result of events, with the French in particular pushing strongly for greater pooling of intelligence following the Paris attacks. The French are said to have increased fivefold the volume of information shared via the Schengen systems.
Whether these efforts are enough to rescue Europe’s free-travel zone is unclear. Meanwhile, the Schengen obituaries are being written, not just by pundits but by senior officials involved in the policy-making.
“If the flow of refugees is not slowed down in four to six months, people really think Schengen is in terminal trouble,” said a third ambassador in Brussels.
For the painter and decorator making his modest pilgrimage to the shrine of what he hoped heralded a better, freer and more humane Europe, the death of Schengen is no answer at all to the grave questions thrown up by immigration.
“If you close down the borders, Islamic State has won,” said Rainer Maring. “People are talking about this all the time. They’re a bit worried about all this politics. And one more thing. It might sound stupid and be hard to imagine, but war is still possible in Europe.”