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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

Member comments

  1. maybe the duty of european countries is be to respect the geneva convention (for real) and take care of the refugees their own actions create

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

Swedish opposition seeks deal on new post-election rule

Sweden's opposition leader has called for an agreement with Sweden's Prime Minister that no government should be allowed to form in future if it does not have support in parliament for its budget.

Swedish opposition seeks deal on new post-election rule

Ulf Kristersson, leader of the Moderate Party, said that there should not be a repeat of the situation seen in last two mandate periods, where the Social Democrats have twice had to rule on a budget drawn up by the right-wing opposition. 

“It is not sustainable that a government grips tightly to power when it cannot get its economic policies passed,” he told Magdalena Andersson during Prime Minister’s question time in the Swedish parliament. “Can the two of us agree that no government should take power without having secured support for its economic policies?” 

It was unclear whether this was a serious proposal or a gambit intended to underline the weakness of the government in the run-up to Sweden’s general election in September. 

Securing support for economic policies is arguably more of a challenge for Magdalena Andersson, as two of the parties likely to support her as Prime Minister after the election, the Centre Party and the Left Party, are deeply divided on economic politics, even though they are united on their unwillingness to back a government dependent on the populist Sweden Democrats. 

The Centre Party has supported Andersson as Prime Minister without voting for the Social Democrats’ budget.  

Kristersson’s call comes after the Social Democrats on Wednesday called for its own budget proposition to fall after a compromise on pensions agreed with the Centre Party was blocked by the parliament’s finance committee from being put before parliament. 

“This was a graphic example of the government’s impotence and the decay of government power,” he said.

Sweden’s prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, did not respond to Kristersson’s proposal, but pointed out that after the last election he had failed to establish a government at all. 

“I think that many among the Swedish people wonder what is happening in parliament just now and think that it is chaotic and incomprehensible,” she said. “My ambition is to establish a government that can get through its economic policies.” 

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