A proposed EU-based system to monitor any attempt by Member States to introduce illegal checks at the EU's internal borders was backed by the Civil Liberties Committee on Tuesday. It says that where a Member State seriously neglects its duty to enforce external border controls, despite EU support, specific measures, including closing a specific border crossing point with another Schengen country, could be taken "as a last resort".
Every year, EU citizens make over1.25 billion journeys as tourists and or to visit friends and relatives across the EU without being held up by checks at its internal borders. The Schengen area also allows free movement for EU workers and third-country nationals legally staying within it.
The new "Schengen evaluation and monitoring mechanism", which takes up most of Parliament's demands, is designed to maintain Member States' mutual trust in their capacity to apply all Schengen provisions effectively and efficiently, thus making it possible to maintain a check-free zone.
The current draft law - part of the Schengen governance package presented by the Commission in September and building on a previous (2010) proposal - aims to strengthen the existing mechanism for verifying Member States' compliance with Schengen rules.
"The new mechanism should help to reinforce the free movement of persons, be able to monitor any attempt to introduce illegal checks at internal borders, and to help to reinforce mutual trust by ensuring an effective control of the external borders by each Member State", underlined Civil Liberties Committee rapporteur, Carlos Coelho (EPP, PT). Mr Coelho welcomed the Commission proposal as providing a legal basis that requires the use of the Parliament/Council co-decision procedure.
Unannounced visits at internal borders
The new proposal would step up the frequency of on-the-spot inspections and introduce unannounced visits by Commission-led teams and experts from other Member States to verify that Member States are not imposing internal border checks in breach of Schengen rules.
First, enforce external border controls…
Should a serious deficiency be found in the way that Schengen rules are enforced at external borders, support should be provided to the Member State concerned for a period of six months, MEPs say, including the help of the EU's Frontex border agency and other EU agencies.
…then consider internal border checks, as a last resort
However, if, despite this support, the Member State concerned is still seriously neglecting its obligation to carry out external border control or return procedures, it could be asked to take certain specific measures, which may lead to the closure of a specific border crossing point with another Member State, "as a measure of last resort, and insofar as the circumstances would be such as to constitute a serious threat to public policy or to internal security", but only "to the extent and for the duration necessary to remedy those deficiencies".
The other legislative proposal in the Schengen governance package, which deals in greater detail with the rules for temporarily reintroducing internal border controls (amendment to the Schengen Borders Code) is also under discussion in the committee, with a vote scheduled for next year.
The proposed mechanism should also apply to Schengen candidate countries, in order to ascertain that they meet all the preconditions for joining the Schengen area, says the text as amended by MEPs, adding that "A candidate state meeting all the requirements foreseen on the Schengen acquis, should be able to join without significant delays".
UK and Ireland
The committee also sought to secure the partial participation of the UK and Ireland, so as to enable them to be evaluated as regards police cooperation, Schengen Information System/SIRENE operations, and data protection.
This Civil Liberties Committee orientation vote gives Parliament's rapporteur a mandate to start negotiations with Council.
Result of vote: 43 votes in favour, none against and 4 abstentions
In the chair: Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES)