25/05/2011 Is the Parliament the best advocate for Schengen?

After the Commission had its turn, it was Parliament’s chance to get to grips with the debate that has been raging in the European Union for several weeks – the Schengen Area. The majority of MEPs joined forces to protect the principle of free circulation with just a few EPP members declaring themselves in favour of strengthening border controls.

The occasion was the debate without vote where MEPs could take a position on the moves made by the Commission the previous week. These measures would mainly allow for controls to be set up within the Schengen Area at its internal borders. While currently only possible in the event of a serious threat to public order, the Commission is proposing expanding the criteria to situations where a country on the Area’s external borders goes bankrupt or where the migration flow is too heavy at a point on the border.

This formulation was deemed vague by the Parliament which also criticised the European Commission for the huge contradiction between its proposals and defence of the Schengen principles. With this outcry from Parliament, we are a long way from revising the Schengen Agreement, as called for by France and Italy.

Within the main political groups, reactions are rather ambivalent, and at times hostile. Here are some of the opinions proffered:

“ We are faced with a wave of immigrants arriving on our shores , dying at sea, we don't know how many have perished at sea and very often these people arrive in Europe and are faced with division, bickering , closed borders, and increasingly the questioning of the cornerstone of the freedom of movement which is the Schengen instrument.” Joseph Daul, EPP

Checks at [internal] borders will be facial checks: those who are tanned, who are different, will be checked. We want to fight against this type of Europe. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Greens

“What we have seen in recent weeks on this issue has been shameful – Italy issuing temporary residence permits to refugees from Tunisia, then France reacting by reintroducing internal border checks, as if the European Union had suddenly ceased to exist. [...] 27 000 Tunisians do not constitute a marginal problem – but [...] by comparison with, for example, the 350,000 people who fled from Kosovo during the Kosovo war, we are clearly not talking about a migration tsunami.” Guy Verhofstadt, ALDE

“400,000 people fleeing Libya for Tunisia – that’s a crisis. But 20,000 crossing the Mediterranean for Europe – that is not a crisis for Europe. There is no reason why we should give in to the populist attitudes of the leaders of two Member States.” Martin Schulz, S&D

“Italy could definitely cope with the current number of refugees. Of course Italy needs the support and solidarity of the other member states now. That means not calling the Schengen system into question but adopting an EU-level immigration package as fast as possible so that asylum seekers can enjoy better protection.” Cornelia Ernst, GUE

Only a small minority of EPP member marched to a different drum by remaining ambivalent about the changes that could occur:

“The Commission proposal which aims at strengthening the EU level in the field of migration is right. We will not accept any attempts to restrict the freedom of movement as a core symbol of Europe. There must not be any new divisions in the EU.” Manfred Weber, EPP

The next step is for the Justice and Home Affairs Council to meet. This will be an opportunity for Member State representatives to discover the strategy that Cecilia Malmström will be proposing for improved management of the EU’s external borders to the south.



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