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Verbatim report of proceedings
Tuesday, 12 June 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

4. Legal basis of the Schengen evaluation mechanism (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. – The next item is the Council statement on the legal basis of the Schengen evaluation mechanism (2012/2687(RSP)).

I would like to make it clear that there will be no catch-the-eye procedure during this debate.

I have agreed with Commissioner Malmström that we will give her the floor for her statement after the group chairs have spoken.

 
  
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  Morten Bødskov, President-in-Office of the Council. (DA) Mr President, Commissioner, honourable Members, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak during the European Parliament’s debate on this important matter.

It is said that politics is the art of putting off decisions until they are no longer relevant. I do not agree. We are in politics in order to take decisions, decisions for the benefit of the population, including when these decisions are not popular. I am sure that that applies to all of us here today.

The decision to change the legal basis for the proposal for the Schengen evaluation mechanism is not equally popular in all quarters. I am happy to admit that. It is necessary, however, if we are to achieve the results that Europe needs. Given the positions of the Member States, this was the only possible decision in the Council.

The EU is there to benefit the citizens of Europe, and creating a European community without internal borders is one of the greatest achievements in our history, European history. It is our responsibility to safeguard that victory. An absolutely crucial prerequisite for maintaining an EU without internal borders is the confidence that the Member States will live up to their obligations under the Schengen rules.

There has been a strong political will for many years to bolster the Schengen evaluation mechanism. A year ago, the European Council called for the evaluation system to be strengthened in order to effectively meet the challenges facing us and for the establishment of a special mechanism to deal with extraordinary situations, where Schengen collaboration as such is at risk. It is these two proposals that make up what is known as the Schengen governance package, which was put forward in September last year.

Both the Polish and the Danish Presidencies have worked intensively on the two proposals in the Council. I am therefore also satisfied to have achieved a unanimous Council last week in order to provide a common response to the challenges facing Schengen cooperation.

There has subsequently been a specific focus on one of the elements of the Council’s common response, namely, the changing of the legal basis for the Schengen evaluation proposal from Article 77(2)(e) to Article 70 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. There were, however, a number of elements to what was decided by the Council. First of all, there was political unanimity on the content of the Schengen evaluation mechanism, including a change of legal basis from Article 77(2)(e) to Article 70. Next, there was the decision – and I would very much like to emphasise this clearly at this point – to consult Parliament in accordance with Article 19(7)(h) of the Council’s Rules of Procedure in order to ensure that Parliament’s position is taken into account as far as possible before the final text is adopted. Thirdly, there was a general approach on the content of the proposal to reintroduce border controls. These three factors thus constitute the basis for the first informal trialogue with the European Parliament in respect of this proposal.

This is an important decision, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to explain the change from Article 77 to Article 70. First of all, it is important for me to make it clear that, if we were to have a stronger evaluation mechanism, it was necessary to change the legal basis. The alternative was that we would not have a new evaluation mechanism, as it was not possible to reach agreement in the Council on a proposal that could be adopted under Article 77. I am absolutely convinced that we, as publicly elected politicians, best fulfil our responsibility towards the electorate by keeping the focus strictly on our obligation to also get results. In the Council, there was one possibility, and one possibility alone, for us to achieve this result. Clearly, that opportunity must not be wasted. In that connection, I would also like to stress that the Council was unanimous in endorsing the decision to change the legal basis. I would also like to point out, in this regard, that, with this decision, the Council followed the very clear pronouncements of its legal service in respect of the proposal. As a third point, the Council did, in fact, make it very clear that it wanted to take into account all the aspects of Parliament’s position as it moves forward with this matter.

I therefore hope that it is absolutely clear, given what I have just said, that the decision to change the legal basis is a purely legal decision based solely on content and not politics. For that reason, honourable Members of this House, it would be entirely wrong to turn this into a fight between the Council and Parliament. Nothing, honourable Members, could be more wrong and more destructive to our common desire for stronger Schengen cooperation.

It is important for me to stress that the Council proposes continued dialogue on the whole Schengen package, not just the proposal on border controls, but also the proposal on the evaluation mechanism. Given the serious challenges that the EU currently faces, there is a need for close cooperation, in which we all come together to find answers to the challenges. Only through collaboration can we come up with the solutions that Europe’s citizens expect of us. The Danish Presidency therefore attaches an extraordinarily high degree of importance to close collaboration with Parliament.

From day one, we have had very close contact with the rapporteur for the Schengen evaluation proposal, Mr Coelho. The same applies to other Members of this House. We have listened, and ensured influence for Parliament, we have had sound and constructive dialogue, and that is something that I would like to thank you all for. I was therefore also pleased to hear that, in a debate in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on Thursday, 31 May, the rapporteur for the proposal recognised the Presidency’s efforts to incorporate Parliament’s views into the text, which has now achieved unanimous support in the Council. With this proposal, we have taken a major step in the right direction, and that is thanks in no small part to the efforts of Mr Coelho and other honourable Members of this House.

It is thus a strong desire on Parliament’s part that has helped ensure that the Council’s compromise also includes the absence of controls at internal borders. It is also partly thanks to Parliament’s efforts that the Council’s compromise provides for an increased role for the Commission, the possibility of unannounced evaluation visits, the fact that the evaluation mechanism applies to both first and second mandate evaluations and, finally, also a high degree of transparency, with regular reports to Parliament.

We have had close contact, and it is therefore certainly not a surprise to the Presidency to hear points discussed here that are important to Parliament. What is more, the proposal on the Schengen Borders Code continues to be subject to the ordinary legislative procedure, with Parliament as the colegislator.

I mention this because I know that the issue of the re-introduction of border controls is a subject close to Parliament’s heart. It was therefore also important to the Presidency to have the politically sensitive provisions on that very ability to re-introduce border controls transferred to the proposal on the Schengen Borders Code. By moving these provisions, we ensured that Parliament continues to be colegislator in respect of these absolutely key provisions, despite the change of legal basis for the proposal on the evaluation mechanism. At one stage, there was a proposal to transfer the provisions on the re-introduction of border controls back into the evaluation mechanism. However, that was something that the Presidency and many other Member States opposed. If they had been moved back, it would have been understandable for Parliament to be critical of the Council’s actions, but that was not the case.

Honourable Members of the European Parliament, the fact that today we have an EU without internal borders is the result of many years’ worth of efforts, and it is therefore important to see the bigger picture in respect of this proposal. With the Council’s compromise, we are paving the way for a more EU-based model and, as the outcome of the debate at the meeting of the Council last week showed, it is key for the Council to involve Parliament to the greatest possible extent in the wider work on the proposal.

I look forward to the debate today, which I am pleased is taking place. None of us should be in any doubt that the Council wants to continue a close dialogue with Parliament on this matter. The Presidency has enjoyed close collaboration with Parliament on this important proposal for Europe’s future. Honourable Members, it is our joint task now to push this proposal forward. The citizens of Europe expect that of us. Thank you for giving me the floor.

 
  
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  Joseph Daul, on behalf of the PPE Group.(FR) Mr President, I will try to stay calm, even though I am absolutely seething. Minister, we had already been provoked, and you have provoked us even further this morning. However, I will stay calm.

(Applause)

By deciding unanimously, against the opinion of the European Commission, to alter the legal basis of the Schengen evaluation mechanism, the interior ministers have made a decision that is completely unacceptable to the Group of the European People’s Party. I would like to thank Ms Malmström for the courage she showed right to the end. She did not bend under pressure from the Council.

(Applause)

Ms Malmström, we will need the Commission over the next few weeks, as the debates will be tough.

Minister, I am surprised that you did not introduce visas at the same: you would have protected our 500 million consumers even more.

(Applause)

By proposing this initiative, you have broken the bond of trust with this Parliament: this initiative has broken the fundamental principle of the community method in a very dangerous way and, as you know, I am very attached to that principle. You have attacked it and you will find us blocking your way.

This principle prevents the larger Member States from imposing their will on the smaller States. It ensures that Europe’s general interest comes before national interests. You have broken that, my friend. The European Parliament and Commission are the guardians of this community method, and we have no intention of giving up on it.

Last Thursday, I asked the Presidency of the Council, in the person of Ms Thorning-Schmidt, who is a former member of the European Parliament herself, to appear before this Parliament to explain her position. She telephoned me yesterday evening, and I think she ought to have been here this morning, because the community method is important and she knows what she is talking about.

The Danish Presidency does not have enough respect for Europe’s 500 million citizens to even bother to tell them why it has denied its Members of Parliament the right of codecision on a subject as important as freedom of movement.

As far as I am concerned, since the evening of 7 June, the Danish Presidency is over. Between now and midnight on 30 June, we will address either the Council or the incoming Presidency of the Republic of Cyprus. You should know that I had to think long and hard before saying that, but you have broken the community method. That is something that must not be done.

(Applause)

At a time when the economic and social crisis we are going through calls for a spirit of solidarity, responsibility and respect from everyone and from all our national and European leaders, you have broken that respect. By withdrawing their trust in Parliament, the Member States are going in the opposite direction to the one that will allow us to come out of the crisis from the top down: in other words, via political integration between us. The solution to our problems is not to withdraw behind our borders; quite the opposite: the solution is shared sovereignty and joint management, in a spirit of mutual trust and of respect for the thing we hold most dear: our freedoms.

Our group asks the Council to reverse its decision. Only by doing this will it be able to come back to this European Parliament.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the S&D Group. (DE) Mr President, Mr Bødskov, some said that I would have a hard time today, with a social democratic government and presidency, but you have made it very easy for me. Everything that you have said, we are opposed to. We had an extensive discussion within the group yesterday and we concluded in unison that we are strongly opposed to what you have done. We reject the position that you have just expressed.

(Applause)

The Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament takes a clear view that you have gone down the wrong road, and a dangerous one at that. You have the experience of Denmark. Did you not learn anything from your predecessors in office, from how the government came under pressure from right-wing populists? You should surely have learned that that is not the right way to go! Unfortunately, you learnt nothing.

May I come back, now, to the quoted reasons for this move? We were told that there was a mass stampede of Tunisians to Europe. That was the origin of this debate. Mr Berlusconi and Mr Sarkozy agreed that they simply had to close the borders, as if that would solve the problem! So, where are these millions of refugees in Europe all of a sudden, the ones to which you have to react, Mr Bødskov? Instead, we have something else. The Europeans intervened in Libya, an intervention I fully supported. Millions of refugees fled from Libya to Tunisia. Because, as before, there are many Libyan refugees in Tunisia, does that mean that we might have to close our borders, or make it easier to do so? Is that our response to the Arab Spring? That is the wrong answer, Mr Bødskov, absolutely the wrong answer.

(Applause)

I agree that there is a problem – a problem on the border between Turkey and Greece. So, then, should we close our borders, because that is the only way to solve that problem? Is there no one left in this Europe who argues that we need to show solidarity, we need to help ensure that this border is made secure against illegal immigrants? Has it, then, become the custom in Europe to respond to populist demands? Does the Danish Presidency also go along with this? That, if you ask me, is a scandal, and we find it unacceptable.

(Applause)

You then have the gall to come here and tell us that we should actually be grateful to you for preventing something worse from happening. Is that your impression of the European Parliament, that we would get down on the floor and say ‘Thank you, Presidency, you prevented permanent new borders in Europe’?

I know why the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers locked out Parliament. It did so because this institution, together with the Commission – and I would like to add my thanks to the Commissioner – has always been the institution that has defended the European accomplishment that is freedom of movement. We have defended it in many debates. Given that you know that there would be opposition here in Parliament if borders were to be closed again without reason, you have removed from Parliament the right of codecision in the evaluation. If you listen to some Justice and Home Affairs ministers – and I am thinking of some quite specific people – then you know how the land lies, and then you know people’s reasons for wanting this. Indeed, a few of the ministers want to have more options to close borders before elections – as was the case in Denmark – or on other occasions. That is the reason, and we reject it.

The S&D Group, like the other groups in this House, is unanimous, and we will pursue all avenues – political and legal – to fight against what you have begun. You are opening a door to right-wing populism in Europe. I am sorry that it is the Danish Presidency that is opening this door.

(Loud applause)

 
  
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  Guy Verhofstadt, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, next Thursday – in two days’ time – we will celebrate Schengen’s 27th birthday. So let me thank the Minister very much for the gift.

It is a shame that we are having this debate today. In fact it is a disgrace. Certainly it is a disgrace, Mr Minister when, a few minutes before starting this debate, you publish a press statement in Danish – and we have some Danish Members who will be able to read that – saying that this agreement is good for Europe and that it has been the outcome of a very deep dialogue with the EU Commission and with the EU Parliament. That is what it says in the statement released by your services this morning, just a few minutes ago.

Well, Mr Minister, we are no longer living in the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages, there was a dialogue between the King and the Parliament, but today we live in the 21st century. It is not based on dialogue but on codecision in a modern society and in a modern parliament. So we do not need your dialogue. What we need is for you to recognise the powers of the European Parliament.

In fact, colleagues, this dispute is not about the power of the European Parliament. It is, in fact, a question of an attempt by the Council to renationalise Schengen by doing two things: first of all. changing the legal basis so that this Parliament lies outside the decision-making process and secondly – and more importantly – by clearly stating that implementation of the new acquis will be delegated to the Council and not to the Commission. So this is not an attack against Parliament but, more importantly, an attack against the Commission, against the communitarian method, and against the fact that Schengen is a full part of European Union policies.

What is an even bigger scandal is that the United Kingdom, which is not in Schengen and has an opt-out, will be treated better than Parliament. Under Article 70, the UK will continue to be present at the negotiations –without having a say, apparently, but it will be present – but this Parliament will not.

So we have to take clear action today. Firstly, I think we need to go to court.

Secondly, why is it necessary to pay for all this? If they want to renationalise, let them renationalise, for example, and then pay for the Schengen acquis themselves. Instead, it is the European Union which has to do it.

Thirdly, Minister, why are we continuing with you on Justice and Home Affairs? Why continue with the Dublin II report on asylum? We have a trialogue on 19 June. Why is it necessary to go on with it? Why continue with the Díaz de Mera report on the visa safeguard clause? We have two trialogues in the next two weeks. Why are we continuing with this? Why are we continuing with the Weber report on the reintroduction of border controls if we have no say on the Coelho report? Why should we continue in any way with you, the Danish Presidency? Why are we not suspending all talks on Justice and Home Affairs until the new Presidency is in place?

(Applause)

 
  
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  Rebecca Harms, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(DE) Mr President, Mr Bødskov, ladies and gentlemen, for me, the worst thing is that I get the impression that the Danish Presidency is acting against its better judgment. All the conversations I have had have led me to conclude that, in Denmark, in the government there that just recently wanted to bring about pro-European progress in the discussion on Schengen, people are actually well aware that there cannot be a happy ending where social democrats are following right-wing populists.

(Applause)

Ladies and gentlemen, in terms of content, everything has already been said, except one aspect that I would like to re-emphasise. I actually find it deeply shocking that a Danish Presidency of the Council, with which my group sought close cooperation, should today declare its distrust of the European Parliament overall, and not only that, but its distrust on an issue that is relevant to our citizens right across Europe. We are not trusted, in the conflict between freedom and security, to make decisions to the benefit of the well-being of our citizens. There are former Heads of Government who are now Members of this House. You know them all. Why do you, why do the Justice and Home Affairs ministers of the European Union, believe that we in this House cannot be trusted with the security of our citizens?

For me, that is absolutely scandalous, and I believe that you are performing something of an emperor’s new clothes trick. Since Europe’s citizens are so insecure as a result of the financial and economic crisis, you are resorting to an arena that really should not be occupied in this populist way. You are taking an axe to one of the greatest achievements of the European Union, freedom of movement, and that is truly shameful. We will take this to court. I am certain that – in contrast to what you said – today is not a good day in your Presidency for Denmark and for Europe. It is the saddest day of your Presidency.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Anthea McIntyre, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, I, too, was surprised by the Council’s move to change the legal base of Schengen, but I am even more surprised by colleagues’ reactions here today. This is a time for cool heads and calm consideration. We should not be reacting with a childish tantrum and by throwing our toys out of the pram. We are in very challenging times in Europe and we need good working relations with all the institutions.

Our first step should be to investigate the legal consequences of the Council’s actions, but I have sympathy with the Member States who unanimously agreed on the change of legal base. The evaluation mechanism is linked to the proposal on temporary border controls, both of which we voted on in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) last night. In both cases, we have seen proposals from the Commission to create a Brussels-based Schengen governance, and in both cases the Member States strongly disagree, with solid arguments.

You will recall Article 4 of the Treaty on European Union, which states that ‘national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State’. In my view, the management of a country’s borders is directly linked to matters of national security. I understand why Member States do not want to give up this competence, so let us proceed in an ordered and sensible way with cool heads, rather than this unnecessary reaction.

 
  
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  Cornelia Ernst, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(DE) Ladies and gentlemen, at the end of the day, the EU’s open borders represent the most important symbol of the Union around the world, and they have a deep allure to many people across the globe. We in the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left, as you know, have always criticised the fact that the EU is also associated with fencing off the outside at the same time. That is precisely the reason why it was so important to us to retain a built-in European emergency mechanism, but the Council was up in arms about that idea. I can only say to you that what you are doing here, what you, the Council, are celebrating, is troglodytic. Go back to the basic principles of the Community! I beg you to do that! Put an end to this kind of, ultimately, anti-European politics. Ladies and gentlemen, the policy of the Council in this case is anti-democratic, as it seeks to downgrade Parliament to the status of a consulted body. We will not tolerate this, however. We have it in writing, we have a Treaty right to codecision, and we intend to – and will – exercise that right.

My second point is that the Council’s decision is deeply anti-European because it nationalises Schengen. I ask you, the Council, the Danish Presidency: do you want to bring back the customs borders? Do you want to go back to the 19th century? What signs are you hoping to send to the outside world with this decision? You are making yourselves look ridiculous to the world, and to Europe.

My third point is that this decision by the Council is populist, in the truest sense of the word, and provides a boost to the forces of nationalism, exactly those people who want to retreat to the nations and destroy the Europe that we have built. We cannot settle for that. I appeal to you to take back your decision, and be Europeans again!

 
  
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  Auke Zijlstra (NI). (NL) Mr President, Member States have decided to take responsibility for border security back into their own hands. The European Parliament will no longer play any role in this. Mr Verhofstadt, speaking in his own name as well as on behalf of the delegations of D66 and the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), has called this decision a declaration of war. However, it is, in fact, the European Parliament that is waging a war against Member States. This Parliament has done nothing to stop the influx of illegal immigrants. This Parliament does not want to take notice of the problems caused by cross-border crime.

Member States are making a choice in favour of security and, therefore, against this Parliament. Member States are making a choice in favour of their citizens and, therefore, against this Parliament. The fact that Parliament is opposed to such decisions only shows that Member States are being very sensible. Mr President, Member States ought to take a whole lot more policies back home, back to the national parliaments, which are the actual bodies that represent their people.

This House, Mr President, should abolish itself. Not only is that a much cheaper solution, but it would also be a step in the direction of peace and security.

 
  
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  Cecilia Malmström, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, a year ago, there was a lot of anxiety about Schengen. There was fear of unilateral actions on unclear grounds. There was uncertainty over how to act in cases of real persistent problems at borders and under what conditions borders could temporarily be reinstalled.

The European Council asked the Commission to bring forward proposals to strengthen Schengen and to enable it to deal with future crises. It asked for a European-based mechanism.

In September last year, the Commission brought forward such a proposal. It brought forward a proposal on a European-based evaluation to enable the Commission, together with Member State experts and their agencies, to detect problems early at our borders in order to be able to identify what could be done, to propose remedies, to activate all our tools and to present an action plan that would be compulsory and that the Commission would monitor. This would replace the peer-to-peer review that we have today and which has proven to be quite useless.

The legal basis for this would be Article 77, because only then would there be a robust evaluation with binding impact and an increase in political legitimacy, as the European Parliament would be a colegislator. This is not just a legal proposal; it is also a political ambition.

(Applause)

The other proposal was on the Schengen border code, which is also a European mechanism for the reintroduction of borders as a last resort and is linked to the evaluation mechanism. Such a situation might arise when everything else has been tried. Member States are masters of their borders, but Schengen is a joint European achievement and very much cherished by our citizens. New borders will affect citizens, business, trade, jobs and growth, and that is why any decision to reinstall borders cannot be taken unilaterally. It must be a European decision.

On the Commission side, there is clear disappointment at the decision by the Council. It adds very little to current rules; we are creating a system where there is no real enforcement decision that can be followed up at EU level and it does not equip us to fight abuse or populist movements arising from domestic pressure.

I appreciate the European Parliament’s support for this and am convinced that the last has not been said on this matter. We also took note of the vote yesterday in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). The Commission will work on this file together with Parliament, and I count on Parliament’s support to work towards a stronger Schengen to the benefit of our citizens, where we defend security but also freedom of movement for citizens, business, jobs and growth so that we have clear and transparent European rules for evaluation and decision making.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Morten Bødskov, President-in-Office of the Council. (DA) Mr President, I would like to offer my thanks for today’s very lively debate and for the opportunity to provide Parliament with a direct account of the Council’s discussions on the Schengen evaluation mechanism. I have listened very carefully to the arguments and views put forward today, and there is one point I would like to stress, which is that all the questions about the introduction of border controls that the honourable Members of this House have raised are part of the ordinary legislative procedure. It is therefore a misunderstanding to say that Parliament is unable to influence such questions.

It seems to me there is no justification for anyone to attempt to make this into an expression of some major struggle between the Council and Parliament. The changing of the legal basis was a necessary consequence of the content-related compromises that we managed to reach in the Council. The Council’s discussions on the content of the proposal very clearly showed that it would have been impossible to achieve the required majority for a proposal that could be based on Article 77.

There can be no doubt that the Council fully recognises that the Council and Parliament have a completely equal interest in ensuring a sound and properly functioning Schengen system. In this connection, I would therefore also like to recognise, and offer my thanks for, the driving force that Parliament has constantly represented in relation to the development of Schengen cooperation. In many cases, Parliament has been a crucial factor in the ongoing adaptation and development of that cooperation, and therefore it is also to a large extent to Parliament’s credit that the Schengen system has been equipped to face the challenges that have arisen on a regular basis. For many years, Mr Coelho has been practically the personification of that drive, and it is my clear hope that we will continue, in future, to make good use of Mr Coelho’s insight and dedication to this cause.

Despite the voices of disagreement that have been raised today, I am certain that the crucial question for all of us is how we can together ensure a better framework for, and better administration of, Schengen cooperation. It is to that end that the Council has now tabled its offer in the shape of the proposals that were agreed on Thursday. The Council and the Danish Presidency have been in constant dialogue with Parliament on this matter, and I feel that the many discussions that we have had on all the elements of the Schengen governance package have been both constructive and rewarding. It was crucial for the Danish Presidency to work to ensure that Parliament’s main concerns were reflected in the compromise agreed by the Council. I believe that the Presidency has succeeded in this to a very great extent, and the Presidency therefore also has high hopes that the end result for all elements of the Schengen governance package will be satisfactory for both the Council and Parliament. The ball is now in Parliament’s court. When it comes to the Schengen Borders Code, Parliament will have its usual role as colegislator to play. In relation to the Schengen evaluation mechanism, Parliament will be informed of the results of the negotiations in the Council. As I stressed in my introductory remarks, however, the Council proposes close dialogue on the whole package, not just the proposal on border controls, but also the proposal on the evaluation mechanism.

It was very clear from the discussions in the Council over the last week that the Council does want to take account, to the greatest possible extent, of the views expressed in Parliament in connection with consultation. Let me therefore be absolutely clear: the Council has the strongest possible wish and the strongest possible desire to enter into close dialogue with Parliament about this matter. No one should be in any doubt that the Council does have the best of intentions. The reality, after all, is that only if the Council and Parliament join forces can we achieve the results that we absolutely need and that are also expected of us.

In light of that, I look forward to further collaboration on this issue, and I look forward to entering into close and constructive dialogue with Parliament. I know that the same also applies to the incoming Presidency. I now very much look forward to Parliament bringing forward its formal communication of your position on this matter. I will take the many views that have been aired here today back with me to the Council, and I would like to offer my thanks to you once more for the opportunity to be present here today and to provide you with a more detailed account of the negotiations on this matter in the Council.

 
  
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  President. – Mr Bødskov, ladies and gentlemen, I ask for your attention for one moment, please. Mr Bødskov. I get the impression that the delight about the continuation of this debate is very much only on one side. Rule 151 of our Rules of Procedure provides that a speaker who is directly addressed should be given the opportunity to make a personal statement at the end of the debate. This applies to the rapporteur, Mr Coelho, who has been addressed a number of times. I therefore give him the floor pursuant to Rule 151.

 
  
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  Carlos Coelho (PPE).(PT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Danish Presidency started well with Minister Bødskov’s pragmatic approach, but finished badly due to the Council’s intransigence. The Council has demonstrated that it does not trust this Parliament and, more significantly, it has shown negative signs of a return to the mentality that existed before the Treaty of Lisbon. I accuse the Council of not wanting to strengthen freedom of movement. I accuse the Council of being obsessed with multiplying, enlarging and enhancing the reintroduction of controls on internal borders. I accuse the Council of not wanting a true evaluation of Schengen, which would identify the problems, lead to their resolution and strengthen the security of our citizens. I accuse the Council of wanting to retain the existing system under which, as Cecilia Malmström put very well, the Member States hide and ignore each other’s mistakes and shortcomings. I accuse the Council of rejecting a European mechanism and of going back to a tired and outdated intergovernmental model. Mr President, finally, I accuse the Council of a dangerous madness and, as several other speakers have highlighted during this debate, renationalising the Schengen project is undesirable.

 
  
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  Morten Bødskov, President-in-Office of the Council. (DA) Mr President, I would just like to take the opportunity – as Mr Coelho has just spoken – to thank him for the close collaboration that we enjoyed and for being a close sparring partner for the Danish Presidency for a prolonged period in connection with this proposal. I would also like to thank him for recognising that the Presidency has listened. The House’s views will now be taken back to the Council, and I hope that we can use them as a starting point for a continued constructive dialogue in order to ensure that we achieve what we all have an interest in, namely, a dialogue about how we can bolster Schengen cooperation.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: OTHMAR KARAS
Vice-President

The debate is closed. Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D), in writing.(LT) A year ago, the Council condemned the unilateral actions of countries restoring border controls and obliged the Commission to present specific proposals on how to strengthen the protection of the Schengen area and the management of the EU’s external borders. Nevertheless, it is now becoming clear that governments do not see the Schengen area as a common European achievement or common value. Member States do not wish to establish the centralised European border management mechanism proposed by the European Commission, of which the European Parliament has repeatedly expressed its approval. Heads of Government would apparently find it unacceptable to have an independent and impartial arbiter who would monitor how the Member States are complying with the provisions of the Schengen acquis. In my opinion, so that we can continue to ensure a successful area of free movement in the European Union, we simply need to strive for the creation of an independent evaluation and supervision mechanism, the functioning of which would be based on democratic principles. That is why it is illogical to allow the Member States to assess their own performance in carrying out border controls, particularly those Member States on the EU’s external borders where controls must be tighter. In my opinion, recent events have demonstrated the shortcomings of the current mechanism in which Member States have a decisive role. As nationalistic movements are being ignited more frequently and clearly, mutual trust among Member States will soon collapse. I therefore hope that the measures we, the European Parliament, will take, will be effective and that EU citizens will be able to continue to take advantage of the freedom of movement without hindrance.

 
  
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  Corina Creţu (S&D), in writing.(RO) The decision made by the Justice and Home Affairs Council regarding the right of Schengen area Member States to reintroduce national border controls temporarily is a great and regrettable backward step in the process of European integration. It is also a flagrant violation of the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon, which establish the codecision procedure involving the Council and Parliament. It marks an outrageous switch from the constantly restrictive attitude hitherto adopted by the Council regarding the freedom of movement issue to removing Parliament from the decision-making process on the Schengen area. This abuse is likely to compromise both the Community spirit and the institutional and regulatory framework forming the basis of the European Union. The tendency in favour of renationalising the Schengen area, on its 27th anniversary, under pressure from the national and populist trends which are against the free movement of citizens, is unacceptable. Indeed, changing the legal basis of the mechanism for evaluating the implementation of the Schengen rules is tantamount to Parliament being relegated from the position of codecider, as specified in Article 77 of the Treaty of Lisbon, to a purely consultative position. This is a two-pronged attack against open borders – one of the major hallmarks of the European Union – and against the only European forum directly representing citizens’ wishes.

 
  
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  Ioan Enciu (S&D), in writing.(RO) The Council’s decision to change the legal basis of the Schengen evaluation mechanism is unacceptable for at least two reasons. Firstly, it is a serious violation of the Treaties and of the principle of sincere cooperation between institutions, thereby helping to foster a spirit of distrust between the European institutions. Secondly, apart from the legal and interinstitutional considerations, the Council’s approach even jeopardises the Schengen area’s integrity. The evaluation mechanism proposed by the Council will not make any improvement compared to the current system, and is the opposite of Parliament’s desired option, which is a European evaluation system where the Commission plays the key role. In practical terms, Member States would like to continue sweeping the problems at the Schengen borders under the carpet instead of promoting an effective evaluation mechanism involving both assistance in the event of shortcomings and sanctions when they are required. Parliament cannot accept such an approach to the Schengen area and is prepared to take the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union if the Council does not reconsider its position.

 
  
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  Pavel Poc (S&D), in writing. (CS) The decision of Member State interior ministers to change the legal basis for the formation of a new Schengen evaluation mechanism from Article 77 to Article 70 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, and thus from codecision on the part of the European Parliament, as originally proposed by the Commission, to mere consultation, is absolutely unacceptable. The ministers want to chip away at one of the cornerstones of the European Union, and one of the EU’s fundamental rights – the right to freedom of movement – by means of non-transparent intergovernmental agreements without the participation or democratic control of the European Parliament. This opens the door to unilateral action and closes the door to the European monitoring that is needed for protecting workforce mobility. Member State governments have again shown that they do not respect the EU’s sole democratic institution. In recent years, I have repeatedly taken the Commission to task over the controls on the Czech-German border, which are absurd, discriminatory and, above all, a violation of the Schengen Code. The Commission has finally begun to address this problem effectively. Now, all European citizens are being dealt a blow by their own governments, which want to close them up within the old administrative borders any time they like. Bringing back borders in this way is a retrograde step for our freedom, our economy and our further development. I believe that the European Parliament will find a way of blocking this, and I am personally very curious as to what the European Court of Justice will have to say about this approach taken by the ministers.

 
  
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  Mitro Repo (S&D), in writing. (FI) Other Members from various political groups have now reacted strongly to the Council’s decision not to include the European Parliament in the decision-making process with regard to the Schengen acquis. This is yet again a woeful example of how attempts are being made to trample underfoot the powers granted to Parliament.

At present, the Committee on Culture and Education is debating the Europe for Citizens Programme, and there is a similar dispute about the legal basis going on in this connection. According to the Commission and the Council, Parliament has no say in what the programme should consist of, although this is an initiative that relates very closely to ordinary people. It is indeed strange that an institution that is elected by means of direct democratic elections and which represents 500 million Europeans should not be able to decide on the content of decisions that affect Europeans.

Now the same thing is happening with Schengen. Free mobility is one of the EU’s greatest achievements and one of the most tangible rights of the EU citizen. I am astonished that the Council wants to strip Parliament of the role which the very same Member States granted it at Lisbon. The dangers connected with all this are a weakening of the rights of the individual, a deterioration in democratic principles, and a decline in cooperation between Parliament and the Council in the future. The Council has adopted an anti-European stance.

 
  
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  Edward Scicluna (S&D), in writing. – The solution is not for Member States to kick countries out of Schengen because they cannot cope with irregular migration, but to work together to ensure that this situation does not happen. The value of the EU is in seeking common solutions to common problems rather than an ‘every man for himself’ attitude which inevitably means that the smaller and poorer countries struggle. The countries that directly border non-EU countries, or are islands, already face a disproportionately high burden, and the question of absorption capacity has become particularly acute following the Arab Spring. My own country, Malta, has seen over 700 irregular migrants arrive in the last month which, when taken on a per capita basis, is akin to Germany having to cope with 400 000 people. The Dublin agreement forms the basis of a common EU approach to immigration. We need a combination of burden sharing and financial assistance so that asylum seekers and economic migrants can have their cases judged swiftly and fairly. Passport-free movement guaranteed under Schengen is one of the major achievements of the EU. It would be a shame to see it unravel because of politicians pandering to populist prejudice rather than seeking a solution.

 
  
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  Adrian Severin (NI), in writing. – The members of the Council insist that the Schengen legal basis is in need of change merely because they want powers to reintroduce the internal borders within the EU. This is utter populism, since internal borders do not improve the life and security of the citizens, but put limits on their freedom. It is clear that the Council intends to renationalise the Schengen project, and to go back to an outdated intergovernmental approach. More than seeking to satisfy the ego of one of the European institutions, this reflects the demagogic approach of the dialogue with the national societies, rather than the concern for the security of the citizens. The change in the legal basis of the Schengen evaluation mechanism should be considered only in terms of finding the correct paths for the implementation and putting into effect of the Schengen acquis. The Member States gathered in the Council want to control and change the Schengen mechanism as they please, not for improving it, but for hiding their incapacity to improve the life of the citizens by presenting the freedom of movement as the source of all evils.

 
  
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  Rafał Trzaskowski (PPE), in writing.(PL) The Council’s decision to amend the legal basis for decisions imposing temporary restrictions on the free movement of persons limits the European Parliament’s involvement in such decisions, and is thus nothing other than an infringement of the Treaties which should be taken to the European Court of Justice. This decision represents a threat not only to the EU’s institutional structure, but, above all, to one of the greatest achievements of integration, namely, the freedom enjoyed by citizens of the EU to move around its territory.

 
  
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  Kathleen Van Brempt (S&D), in writing. (NL) The Council’s decision to sideline the European Parliament in the reform of the Schengen Agreement lays the way open for an attack on the fundamental rights of European citizens. If Parliament is not given any say over Schengen’s evaluation mechanisms, we will no longer have democratic scrutiny of decisions which could even lead to the temporary reintroduction of passport controls. This is unacceptable. The Council should review its decision because it erodes the principles and basic freedoms of the European Union, in particular, free movement of people. I therefore fully support the proposals that have been put forward so that we, as Parliament, can resolutely counteract this decision. Firstly, by political means, that is, by suspending the ongoing negotiations with the Council, and then legally, that is, by taking all necessary steps to prepare an action and bring it before the Court of Justice. What we need in these difficult times through which the EU is currently struggling is more solidarity and more trust; we need a European approach and European solutions. What we do not need is the erosion of European institutions, putting national interests first and allowing the demands of the large Member States to prevail.

 
  
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  Josef Weidenholzer (S&D), in writing.(DE) For months now, the European Parliament has been negotiating what has become known as the Schengen package under the ordinary legislative procedure. Suddenly, however, the interior ministers changed the legal basis (Article 70), aiming to transfer responsibility for this to the Member States. Behind this perhaps seemingly technical issue hides the basic question behind all European politics: are the Community and its institutions to make decisions based on community principles or are the national governments to perform that function based on more or less agreed positions – in other words, are decisions to be made on a Community or intergovernmental basis? Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament has developed more and more into an institution that stands above national special interests. This could, perhaps, act as a brake against populist politics, which occurs regularly in many Member States, especially in the run-up to national elections. It seems clear that Europe’s interior ministers fear that the European Parliament takes its role as guardian of European fundamental rights seriously.

 
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