MEPs said they were considering whether to bring a European Court of Justice case against the decision by EU governments to deprive the European Parliament of its right to legislate on arrangements for evaluating the functioning of the Schengen visa-free travel agreement. Speakers from most political groups strongly criticised the Danish Presidency for what they considered a direct attack on the European Union's fundamental values.
MEPs asked the Danish justice minister Morten Bødskov to come to Parliament to explain why EU justice and home affairs ministers had decided on 7 June to change the legal basis of the rules governing the evaluation of Schengen from Article 77 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU to Article 70.
This change effectively meant that the European Parliament no longer has any legislative powers over this draft law. The EU justice ministers merely promised to inform Parliament of the member states' decisions.
Thus, both Parliament and the European Commission would be prevented from exercising their supervisory role on behalf of citizens and member states would be free to ignore any concerns that they put forward. Furthermore, the decision was taken while negotiations with the other EU institutions were still in progress.
"This is a legal decision based on contents, not on politics," said Danish justice minister Morten Bødskov. He called on MEPs to "look at this in a broader perspective", adding that "with this compromise we are advocating a model based on more EU".
"Deciding to change the legal basis is completely unacceptable for our group," said Joseph Daul, the French president of the EPP group. "You have broken the relation of trust with this Parliament, and broken away from the Community method, which guarantees that larger Member States cannot impose their will on smaller ones."
"You have opened the door to populism and we will stand against you," said Hannes Swoboda, the Austrian president of the S&D group. "Because there are so many refugees coming from Tunisia, should we shut down borders?" he asked, adding that "this is the wrong answer to the Arab Spring". Mr Swoboda also warned: "we will use all political and legal tools at our disposal to stop this."
"It is an attempt by Council to renationalise Schengen," said Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian leader of the ALDE group. "We have to take clear action, and go to court," he added, also suggesting that the European Parliament should suspend talks with the Danish Presidency on other home affairs files being discussed.
"You are putting the accent on freedom of movement to distract citizens' attention from the crisis," said Rebecca Harms, the German co-chair of the Greens/EFA group, adding that "there is something really outrageous" in the Council's decision because it shows "mistrust" towards Parliament. "Why it is that Parliament cannot be trusted when it comes to ensuring the free movement of EU citizens?" she asked.
"I too was surprised by the Council's move," said Anthea McIntyre, a British member of the ECR group. "I'm even more surprised by my colleagues' reaction today," she added, urging fellow members not to react "with a childish tantrum". She said: "National security remains the sole competence of member states. I understand why member states don't want to give up this competence."
"Open borders in the EU is a meaningful symbol for people all around the world," argued Cornelia Ernst, a German member of the GUE/NGL group, who described the Council's decision as "despicable, anti-democratic and anti-European". "Do you wish to restore customs borders?" she asked.
"Parliament did nothing to stop the incoming flows of illegal immigrants," said Auke Zijlstra, an unattached member from the Netherlands. "The Council's decision is reasonable," he said, as "this competence lies in national parliaments".
"I'm convinced that the last word is not said on this," stressed home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström, expressing her "clear disappointment" at the Council decision. "We will defend security, but also freedom of movement," she added.