- “Provisional” internal border controls have been in place since 2015, and pandemic is putting Schengen at risk
- Schengen Borders Code needs revision, Commission should consider infringement procedures
- New rules needed for borders during health emergencies
MEPs call for the restoration of free movement within the Schengen area, which has been disrupted by border controls, most recently because of the COVID-19 crisis.
In its annual report on the functioning of the Schengen area (adopted with 52 votes in favour, 14 against and 1 abstention), the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs expressed concern over the current state of free movement in the EU. Noting that some internal border controls have been in place since 2015, MEPs say that such checks no longer fill the criteria of proportionality and necessity, and are therefore unlawful.
The Committee calls on the Commission to scrutinize the member states’ current compliance with Schengen rules, and start infringement procedures where necessary. MEPs complain that the Commission takes too long to address shortcomings and deplore its unwillingness to provide annual reports on the state of Schengen, as required by the Schengen Borders Code. Also, the Commission should boost the evaluation of Schengen with regular on-site visits.
Frontex and external borders
MEPs are concerned by reports of push-backs by Frontex on the Schengen external borders and demand more transparency about its activities, notably those taking place at sea, and fulfilment of its reporting obligations. The Committee emphasizes that helping people in distress at sea is a legal obligation and demands that the border agency hires the fundamental rights monitors it needs according to its Regulation.
The report also demands full integration of Bulgaria and Romania in the free-movement zone, noting that both countries have fulfilled the requirements for joining Schengen.
Looking to the future, the Committee welcomes the Commission’s pledge to make visa procedures in the EU entirely digital by 2025, as integrating long-term residents from third countries is vital for social cohesion.
Finally, MEPs underline that a reform of the Schengen Borders Code is necessary to address the current state of the border-free travel area. While border controls remain a prerogative of the member states, new safeguard mechanisms could ensure the withdrawal of controls when they are no longer a proportionate response. To make Schengen stronger for the future and respect the principle of free movement of people, a new regime for health emergencies would be necessary, say MEPs.
Rapporteur Tanja Fajon (S&D, SL), said: “Schengen has been seriously at risk in recent years, also due to COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of facilitating free movement, internal border controls have become the new normal. With people still dying at our shores, violent push-backs and human rights abuses at our borders, Commission’s inaction and mutual distrust between states, Schengen is no longer fit for purpose. Reform is urgently needed. The report offers concrete solutions that not only address these problems, but preserve and restore Schengen as it once was.”
The report will be tabled for the Parliament’s plenary session of 23rd June.