(EUobserver) Germany seeks to harden EU border checks

(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.