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Debates
Wednesday, 4 July 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12. Breaches of Schengen rules (debate)
Video of the speeches
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  President. − The next item is the Council and Commission statements on breaches of Schengen rules (2012/2700(RSP)).

 
  
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  Andreas Mavroyiannis, President-in-Office of the Council. Mr President, honourable Members, let me start by saying that this is one of our toxic assets so I hope that you will bear with me and accept at least my commitment to do my utmost – to do together our utmost – to find a satisfactory way forward for all of us.

I am well aware that the issue of controls in and around internal borders in the Schengen area is a matter on which this Parliament has strong views and which Parliament is following very closely. I also know that many of you have questions and concerns. Specific cases concerning the reintroduction of border controls are a matter for the Commission which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of EU law. I would, however, like to make a number of points concerning recent developments in the Schengen area, including the issue of internal border controls.

At its meeting on 7 and 8 June, the Justice and Home Affairs Council discussed this matter on the basis of the Commission’s first biannual report on the functioning of the Schengen area. That discussion focused in particular on the issues of secondary movements by third country nationals within the Schengen area and of readmission and visa policy, but we also took note of the comments in the Commission report on the issue of ensuring the absence of internal border controls. I want to assure this Parliament that the Council took full account of the importance of the absence of internal border controls during its negotiation on the Schengen governance package.

In June 2011 the European Council underlined that the free movement of persons is one of the most tangible and successful achievements of European integration. The European Council called for improved cooperation within the Schengen area in order to enhance mutual trust between Member States. This is essential if we are to protect the principle of free movement.

The European Council specifically called for a strengthening of common rules through the Schengen evaluation mechanism and for the establishment of a mechanism to respond to exceptional circumstances which might put the overall functioning of Schengen cooperation at risk. In response the Commission submitted the legislative package last September which included both an amended proposal on the establishment of an evaluation and monetary mechanism and a proposal to amend the Schengen Borders Code.

As you will be aware, at its meeting on 7 and 8 June, the Council reached a political agreement on these two proposals. This followed difficult discussions within the Council as well as extensive contacts with the European Parliament. The texts as they now stand represent a clear improvement in the governance of the Schengen area. The Schengen evaluation mechanism is substantially improved, ensuring a stronger role for the Commission and a more efficient follow-up to evaluation reports and monitoring.

The Schengen Borders Code includes new provisions to address situations where Member States are not fully implementing the Schengen acquis. The proposal to amend the Schengen Borders Code is of course subject to ordinary legislative procedure. This Parliament will therefore be fully involved in deciding on the provisions which will govern the reintroduction of controls at internal borders.

As far as the Schengen evaluation mechanism proposal is concerned, the Council took the decision to change the legal basis from Article 77 to Article 70 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. I am of course well aware of the sensitivity of this decision for Parliament. I want to assure you that this decision was taken for legal reasons, even if its consequences may be felt by Members here to be political.

The Council was not in any way motivated by a wish to exclude Parliament from the process. On the contrary we want Parliament to be fully involved. That is why the Council agreed that when it consults Parliament your opinion, in all its aspects, will to the fullest extent possible be taken into consideration by the Council before the adoption of the final text.

I should also point out that the Council also agreed, again for legal reasons and as part of the overall agreement, to transfer several provisions in the Schengen evaluation mechanism proposal to the Schengen Borders Code proposal.

The Cyprus Presidency is ready to work constructively with the European Parliament on both the Schengen evaluation mechanism proposal and the Schengen Borders Code proposal. We therefore very much hope that a way can be found which will enable Parliament to reconsider its decision to suspend its work on the Schengen governance package. This would enable us to work together to reach agreement on this very important matter as soon as possible.

 
  
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  Cecilia Malmström, Member of the Commission. Mr President, let me assure you that the Commission is willing to help ‘detox’ this file if you would so like.

The possibility to travel within Schengen without being subject to border control is of course one of the most valuable rights for European citizens. It is one of the most tangible effects of European integration for citizens and it is the role of the Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, to make sure that this will still be the case. We will not hesitate to initiate infringement procedures if appropriate.

My services are currently investigating a number of possible violations of the relevant EU legislation, including the Schengen Borders Code. These cases cover both obstacles to fluid traffic flow at internal land borders and police checks that might have an effect equivalent to border controls.

From last November to April, we investigated 11 different cases involving 10 different Member States. You have highlighted in your questions here two of these cases: the German authorities’ controls on passengers on Czech buses and mobile surveillance by the Dutch authorities at their borders with Belgium and Germany. The Commission is aware of both.

In the German-Czech case, the Commission has repeatedly requested information from the German authorities on the frequency of controls and their justification. However, the information we have received so far from the German and Czech authorities has not provided sufficient details to fully assess whether the controls were equivalent to border checks and whether they are in breach of the Schengen Borders Code.

We have not let the matter rest here. In May, we asked three major Czech bus companies to assist us with more information over a longer period. We hope to have additional facts by October, which would enable us to carry out a more thorough analysis of the situation at that border. I am of course ready to come back to you and report on these results.

Regarding the Dutch mobile surveillance, there have been several recent cases in various Dutch courts, questioning whether it is compatible with the Schengen Borders Code. In addition to the decision that you have highlighted, Dutch courts have referred two similar cases to the Court of Justice of the European Union for a preliminary ruling. The basic question is whether Dutch mobile surveillance contravenes the prohibition of border checks or their equivalent laid down in the Schengen Borders Code.

The Schengen Borders Code specifies that the abolition of border controls does not affect the use of police powers under national law, as long as they do not have an effect equivalent to border checks. This is valid in particular, but not only, if these police checks do not have border control as an objective – they are based on general police information and experience – and if they are carried out in a manner clearly distinct from border checks and on the basis of spot-checks.

In both of the cases referred to the Court of Justice, the Commission’s view is that the Dutch mobile surveillance has neither the same purpose nor the same modalities as a border check. The surveillance is targeted on the fight against illegal residence and is subject to limitations, for example on the frequency of checks.

The legal analysis conducted by the Commission led to the conclusion that the Dutch mobile surveillance does not contravene the Schengen Borders Code or the case law from the Melki case. We await of course the Court of Justice ruling in this matter.

On a broader note, as I have said repeatedly, the Commission will make use of our prerogatives to keep defending the rights of citizens to travel within the Schengen area without controls. That commitment is also reflected in our proposal for a new Schengen monitoring and evaluation mechanism which included the verification of absence of controls at internal borders.

I still believe that a truly effective mechanism implies a stronger role for the Commission based on Article 77 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. I am also convinced that the political legitimacy of that proposal would benefit from the European Parliament acting as co-legislator.

From the Commission’s side we naturally reserve the right to take whatever legal action we may deem necessary to safeguard the integrity of the roles that the Treaties have defined for each of the Union’s institutions, but at this moment let us not speculate on legal action.

No final decision has been taken so let us take some time for reflection and discussion and seize the opportunity to sit down to see if we can improve the text during the Cyprus Presidency and make sure that we have a balanced, good Schengen governance that all three institutions can support. The Commission is certainly willing to do everything it can to support such an outcome.

 
  
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  Manfred Weber, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, President-in-Office of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, the discussion of Schengen has generated a lot of headlines in Europe in recent weeks. For that reason, it is good that we are discussing this matter in Parliament today. I would like to start by indicating the support of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) for the Commissioner in respect of the examination of the very specific detailed accusations in the European Union, and if it is found that offences have been committed at European internal borders, they should be properly investigated by the Commission, because the PPE Group wants a strong European authority that will monitor Schengen status in future.

That brings us to the real debate, which is one that, ultimately, concerns us all. With its decision on the Schengen rules, the Council was itself probably not altogether clear on what it was hoping to achieve, because it has not only set out on a path that we consider to be dubious in terms of content, it has also, by choosing a new legal basis, departed from the path of cooperation with Members of this House. The Council has also interfered in one of Europe’s most important achievements, namely the open borders.

For us, Schengen means freedom in place of borders, cooperation in place of egoism and working together instead of working against one another. The freedom to travel in Europe is the PPE Group’s top priority. The people, the economy and indeed the whole of Europe will benefit from this. We do not want the open borders, which are a visible feature of European cooperation, to be disproportionately restricted, particularly at a time when more European spirit is needed.

As the PPE Group, we want the Member States to stop doing secret deals with each other on how essential rights of their citizens are to be dealt with. This method has failed; we must focus on the Community method.

The PPE Group wants the decision making to come out of the diplomatic backrooms and the decisions on these new legal bases to be made by the elected bodies in which citizens are represented.

The PPE Group will fight to retain these rights in Europe. As far as the content is concerned, we do not see any insurmountable obstacles. The question is whether we will actually find a way forward in this process together. I have to say, Mr Mavroyiannis, that this is not the way for family members to treat each other. It destroys the spirit of European cooperation. We therefore ask the Council to return to the path of cooperation, and – as you said yourself today – more intensive contact is not enough for the European Parliament. We are legislators and we are involved in the decision, and for that reason I would ask you to withdraw your decision on the legal basis and involve Parliament as an equal legislator.

 
  
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  Sylvie Guillaume, on behalf of the S&D Group.(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I personally am very pleased with this debate that we are having again today on this new Schengen governance in the broadest sense of the term. It means that we can reiterate our concerns about protecting the free movement of persons, a formidable EU body of legislation.

Cases of breaches of Schengen rules, alluded to by the Commission in its first Schengen bill of health, invite us, Commissioner, to request you to shed as much light as possible on these matters, as you indicated when you first spoke.

We first urge the Member States to adopt greater transparency. This transparency must be part of a mechanism to strengthen mutual trust between Member States, and to enable them to implement all the Schengen provisions effectively. However, we also need to be able to rely on a courageous European Commission which does not hesitate to draw on its powers, as guardian of the Treaties, to ensure that Community law is appropriately implemented, and all the more so in the case of the fundamental right, and I will come back to that, of the freedom of movement of our fellow citizens.

More than ever before, the examples that have been mentioned, whether Germany or the Netherlands, although we could think back to older examples such as Italy and France, and the border at Ventimiglia, are sufficient argument for us to make further calls for the introduction of a European Schengen evaluation mechanism, a Community-based one in which Parliament would have a full role to play.

The new Cypriot Presidency will have the onerous task of trying to find a positive outcome to the conflict that sets us apart on this issue. Furthermore, I must admit, President-in-Office of the Council, that I did not fully recognise in what you were saying either what had been said or the outcome of our previous discussions, although this is undoubtedly due to a misunderstanding on my part.

I would like to remind you that the system which had been applied in certain areas was an intergovernmental system. It is no longer suitable for the European Union as it is developing now, particularly if we want to put the support of the European people for our common project on a permanent footing.

In the absence of a shared view of these situations at the borders, it is highly likely that the same party-political arguments and their populist slant will remain the order of the day, and that, frankly, is toxic to our European democracy.

I shall conclude by reaffirming that the only weapon we can use to respond to the challenge posed by the structural fragility of certain borders, a fragility which clearly concerns us all, is that of European solidarity and a Community approach.

 
  
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  Renate Weber, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, we have heard again and again from the Council, from the Member States, but also from you, Commissioner, that the implementation of the Schengen Agreement has been very good, almost perfect. Allow me please to at least partially disagree.

It is true that for several years no one has challenged how Member States implement the Schengen rules. Border controls have been reintroduced for limited periods of time, but no one complained. However, in the last 18 months there have been way too many attempts to apply Schengen rules in a much more personalised and dangerous manner. The joy of the Arab Spring was over-shadowed by Italy’s reaction and France’s decision to reintroduce border control.

Denmark considered that its domestic political problems could be solved by reintroducing border control as an alleged way of combating trans-border crime. For more than one year – one year – the Netherlands has had an initiative which was considered by a Dutch court as having the same effects as border controls. For several months another attempt to curtail free movement has taken place in Germany, where on a systematic basis more than 55% of Czech buses are checked. I cannot help wondering how long the Commission will keep pretending that things are OK within the Schengen governance. They are not. This is why the Commission in fact came up with a legislative package to improve it.

If the Commission continues with only half-measures, never daring to start infringement procedures, I am afraid we will wake up one morning realising that free movement no longer exists.

I am addressing you, Commissioner, because I have full confidence in your commitment to the defence of free movement. I am not addressing the Council at this stage, waiting for a better time to enlighten the Member States and make them understand what the real interests of European citizens are.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: OLDŘICH VLASÁK
Vice-President

 
  
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  Judith Sargentini, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (NL) Mr President, do our national leaders have doubts about the benefits of the freedom of movement? Do they no longer see the freedom that it offers European citizens? Do they, similarly, no longer see the economic benefits of freedom of movement? Do our Heads of State or Government doubt their counterparts? Do they doubt the willingness of other Member States to properly control and protect our external borders? It looks very much like it.

I believe that those doubts – that distrust, even – of other Member States, is symptomatic of what is happening in the European Union. Together we are strong. Together we will get out of the crisis. Our Heads of State or Government are not giving the impression that they have confidence in cooperation. That mutual distrust between Member States has led Parliament to state that the control and delivery of the freedom of movement should be the responsibility of the Commission, as that is an institution that has European interests in mind.

For me, that freedom of movement is one of the greatest commodities that the European Union provides. It therefore amazes me to hear that the Commission, in the shape of Ms Malmström, is now saying that the Dutch Government’s so-called ‘mobile surveillance of aliens’ is permissible. My reaction would be that, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. If you proceed to permit this now, when various Dutch courts have already thrown it out, I am convinced that the same will happen within a short while at the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg.

 
  
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  Timothy Kirkhope, on behalf of the ECR Group. Mr President, once again we find ourselves debating the Schengen system and its implementation – in this case by Germany and the Netherlands, but it is becoming increasingly impossible to have a discussion on Schengen separated from a discussion on the security of borders generally. The Schengen area is not just an area administered by the EU, it is the territories and borders of individual Member States, and yet Article 4(2) of the Treaty on European Union states that national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State.

Increasingly this House wants Member States to have less control over their borders, and concerns about this are not reactionary or short-term but a belief by states that they themselves are best placed to deal with the unique security situation that they face. Instead this debate has so far been dominated by a rather petty squabbling with other institutions. Perhaps the European Council and Member States would feel less urgency to regain powers if this Parliament acted more responsibly and understood the security pressures which we all face.

In the fight against cross-border crime we need to join together to do that, but we should not be allowing ourselves to be held to ransom on topics such as my own EU PNR proposals, which were removed from our agenda at an important moment. It is important that we should conduct our business in future in a different, more considered and balanced way.

 
  
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  Cornelia Ernst, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, we really ought to speak plainly and clearly today, and this plain-speaking includes the fact that we cannot turn the clock back, and nor do we want to. As Parliament, we have the right under the Treaty to be involved in decisions on all matters relating to Schengen and not just to be casually consulted. That is something that I would like to make clear at the start.

I would also like to say that this EU law simply must not be left to the arbitrariness of political freebooters – and that is how I would describe it. Politically motivated contravention – and that is also the term I would choose to use – using the Schengen agreement as a kind of muscle-flexing in election campaigns, is totally unacceptable, and also has nothing to do with EU law. These problems do not only include arbitrary border closures, which we had for a time and which, of course, violate EU law, they also include the installation of cameras at 15 border crossings between Germany and the Netherlands and Belgium. If these do not also constitute border controls, then what are they? Furthermore, all that nonsense from a German interior minister concerning the reintroduction of border controls is obviously dangerous. It is dangerous not just because of the problems with Schengen, but also because it represents the arguments of the extreme right, and not just in Germany. Equally unacceptable is the fact that, at the border between Germany and the Czech Republic, which is, incidentally, where I live, buses are constantly being checked. We must not tolerate this. It is not only buses from the Czech Republic that are being checked, but people who look a bit different in some way, for example those who have slightly darker skin, are also being checked. This is also part of the problem.

Let us make it very clear that this is not acceptable. We do not want this, because it contravenes the law and because, as Parliament, we do not want this sort of policy. We therefore also express our criticism of the Council’s action in the strongest possible terms. After all, this is not merely a contravention of the law; it is also undemocratic. I therefore suggest that the Council discusses four things with us:

Firstly, we ought to be in agreement that there must be no arbitrariness in the way that the Schengen Agreement is implemented. That is something I would like to discuss. Secondly, we want to increase free movement. We want to talk about this. Thirdly, in the event of contraventions of the Schengen Agreement, we want the Commission, with the involvement of the Council, to draw the necessary conclusions. Lastly, as Parliament, we want to be fully involved in all matters, and that includes decision making.

 
  
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  Mara Bizzotto, on behalf of the EFD Group.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, on 7 June, the Council’s decision to give the Member States the option to reintroduce border controls created a new Europe, a courageous Europe that satisfied its citizens’ desire for greater safety, ultimately rooted in a more mature interpretation of the concept of solidarity based on the defence of its people’s rights above all else.

Even though he is not here, I would say to President Schulz that this historic decision does not constitute an interinstitutional incident; rather it represents the wishes of citizens being respected and not the wishes of Eurocrats, who for years have pretended not to understand what is really going on outside their glass palace. I am not talking about any imaginary influx of illegal immigrants, President Schulz, but a 35% increase in illegal immigrants in 2011, according to Frontex’s own data.

I only regret that the scenes of political hysteria in this House during the last plenary sitting took time away from a more useful and constructive activity, to ask ourselves why it was the Member States and not us that defended the interests of our fellow citizens. If Parliament cannot find the heart and the courage to oppose the political correctness and banal platitudes on which it has got by for too long, it will continue to be a follower and not a leader in the construction of the European project.

 
  
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  Auke Zijlstra (NI).(NL) Mr President, the fact that there are problems that result from Schengen cannot be said here often enough. After all, the Europhiles in this House are blind when they can see, deaf when they can hear, and do not want to understand. Schengen is the cause of the massive relocation of crime and nuisance. Now that the Member States are finally recognising that these problems need to be tackled, this House is setting itself against the solution. However, the border controls need to be restored, and the Member States need to ensure security.

These border controls disappeared as a result of naive idealism. That idealism has not ensured that countries and peoples in Europe have got closer, as was hoped, but instead has actually led to them drifting apart. It is a divisive factor. The choices that Brussels makes do not offer any solutions. Brussels chooses to back the failed euro experiment at the expense of its citizens. Brussels chooses rising budgets at the expense of its taxpayers. When it comes to Schengen, Brussels chooses the free movement of criminals at the expense of security.

Mr President, the European Parliament backs these bad choices. I therefore now address Mr Van Rompuy, as President of the European Council, through the representative of the Council here today. He is not a fan of freedom, he is not a fan of participation or of national democracy. He likes centralisation, obsessive regulation and Japanese poetry. I therefore have a special haiku for him.

Schengen. Crime on tour. The border has been crossed. Winter in Brussels.

 
  
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  Carlos Coelho (PPE).(PT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, listening to the speakers, we are all – with the exception of a couple from the far right – in agreement. We all agree that freedom of movement is one of the European Union’s greatest achievements. We all agree it needs to be strengthened. We all believe an area without border checks is essential to the internal market and that it brings benefits to the Member States and the public. We all agree with the need to improve governance of Schengen, and we even all agree that Schengen’s current evaluation system is inadequate and that we need a system guaranteeing a transparent, effective and consistent Schengen system.

Why, then, do we need to bring specific cases into the Chamber? Commissioner Malmström said that, as well as those mentioned by Parliament in the oral question, she is currently investigating some 11 cases. These 11 cases prove that there are systematic breaches of freedom of movement under Schengen. These 11 cases prove that the European institutions were unable to stop them. These 11 cases prove that Schengen’s current evaluation system is not working and that is the key issue.

The President-in-Office of the Council said the reasons were just legal, but that is not true. The Cypriot Presidency is getting off on the wrong foot by trying to pull the wool over Parliament’s eyes on this, because the reasons are political: the Council wants to continue covering up breaches of the Schengen Agreement, which is what it has systematically been doing with its peer-to-peer evaluation system. We need a genuine evaluation system; an EU-level system, led by the European Commission and subject to the codecision procedure, voted on by the Council and by Parliament. We think that is how we will defend Schengen, will defend freedom of movement, and will defend what is one of the best guarantees and the greatest successes of European integration.

 
  
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  Ioan Enciu (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the recent debates on the Schengen Agreement have focused too much on the interinstitutional war between the Council and Parliament and too little on the real heart of the problem. This is why I believe that this debate provides a good opportunity to revisit arguments which justify the radical reform of the Schengen area.

Unfortunately, I must say that the current Schengen system has major problems, mainly due to a general trend towards renationalising the Schengen area. This trend has become evident in recent years through cases which are already well known of internal border controls being illegally reintroduced. However, what is less well known and publicised in the media are the hidden internal border controls which are in place in no fewer than 11 Member States, as the Commission highlighted in its biannual report in May, a situation also confirmed by the Commissioner responsible for the Schengen area and by Mr Coelho here before us. The refusal to admit Romania and Bulgaria is another example of the Schengen rules being misinterpreted. I hope that this autumn the accession of Romania and Bulgaria will mark the first step towards establishing a normal situation in terms of compliance with these rules.

In Romania, even at the moment, the national parliament and the Ponta government are making efforts to introduce the rule of law and get rid of the presidential dictatorship which has been imposed in recent years. Therefore, Romania is in the process of returning to normal after a long period of democratic abuses and violations. This will ensure that the problems relating to administration and justice which have delayed Romania’s admission to the Schengen area will disappear, never to occur again.

The European Union urgently needs to reform Schengen governance and have Parliament involved, while the Commission needs to adopt the role of an impartial arbitrator both in assessing the application of the Schengen acquis and in the measures adopted to resolve the problems which have occurred, if necessary.

 
  
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  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). - Mr President, I would say to my domestic coalition partner, Mr Kirkhope, if he were here, that internal border controls do not play a major role in catching major criminals, or even terrorists, and nor would PNR collection on internal EU flights do that. What is needed for that purpose is not populist moves designed to impress voters that irregular migration is being curbed, but strongly cooperative intelligence-led policing.

In addition we do need better managed external borders. I speak, of course, as a Brit who does not enjoy free movement travelling between London and Brussels or Strasbourg. Indeed, on a Brussels–London Eurostar journey I have my passport checked three times at present and my ticket twice. I acknowledge there is an issue on that route because people can buy a ticket to Lille but continue to London, but please be grateful that most of you do not have to endure these checks in Schengen and please preserve internal free movement so that even we Brits can join one day.

 
  
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  Jan Zahradil (ECR). – (CS) Mr President, I would be happy to acknowledge the right of every Member State to control, in justified cases, its own external borders, for security reasons. I respect that, but it must be done in justified cases and it must never be done in order to harass.

It is simply not normal that every other coach coming from the Czech Republic is checked on the Czech-German border. There is no justification for this, because the Czech Republic presents no security risk for Germany, and nor does it present any risk in terms of illegal migration, and if ordinary tourist coaches are being checked then this is completely beyond me. I travel to Strasbourg from Prague by car and I well know that immediately after Rozvadov on the Czech-German border, the German or Bavarian police are lurking, and they deliberately go for cars with foreign number plates.

I think it is a kind of bureaucratic procedure, and that someone perhaps is ticking boxes in an office somewhere for the number of checks carried out, but it has to stop. The Treaty must have the final word here, and European law must be adhered to, just as in other cases.

 
  
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  Ewald Stadler (NI).(DE) Mr President, in recent years, the Schengen rules have become a central dogma among EU apologists for this new, secular EU alternative religion. We are now witnessing another dogma collapsing before our eyes. Ministers who attacked Denmark’s imposition of extra checks two years ago are now forced to admit that they can no longer manage without additional border controls, particularly in relation to illegal migration at the border between Turkey and Greece.

For this reason, I welcome the decisions taken by the interior ministers. I also appeal to them not to back-track, but rather to consider whether they might need more stringent measures if the economic situation further deteriorates, as seems likely at present. To all those who currently crassly ignore the problems of the victims of crime I would like to say that this is a cynical way to deal with these wronged citizens.

Finally, I would like to make the following appeal: I would call on you not to relax visa requirements for Turkey as this would send out the wrong signal to this country. It is particularly important now that we should make it clear to Turkey that it is obliged to ensure that we do not have a massive wave of illegal migration into the Schengen area.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL), blue-card question.(DE) I should like you to explain what this has to do with Turkey. As far as I am aware, Turkey is not a Member of the EU. We are supposed to be discussing the EU’s internal borders. Are you aware of this?

 
  
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  Ewald Stadler (NI), blue-card answer.(DE) I am not sure if my colleague has noticed that there is a border between Turkey and Greece, that this border has been increasingly used for illegal migration in recent months, that, as a further consequence, there have been several migratory movements from Greece into the European Union, and that not all of those who come are genuine refugees but also include criminal elements. I am not sure whether she has noticed this. It has not, however, gone unnoticed by the many members of the public who have fallen foul of this criminality.

 
  
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  Simon Busuttil (PPE). - (MT) Mr President, each time our external borders are placed under pressure a large number of Member States have got into the habit of reacting in the wrong way. Instead of trying to find ways of cooperating in order to strengthen the external borders, they are reintroducing internal ones between the European countries. What they fail to realise is that by putting up these internal borders they are leaving out European citizens whilst locking in their own citizens, and they are undermining freedom of movement, which is the European Union’s biggest achievement. In other words, they are placing all that we have built together under threat. We face two problems here. The first being that the Council is excluding the European Parliament when it comes to Schengen based decisions and, as a consequence, decisions related to freedom of movement.

Today, however, it is has emerged more clearly than ever that it is the European Parliament that is fully defending the freedom of movement of citizens. We want the European Commission to join us in this defence.

The second problem is that we are not simply talking about the risk of a potential threat to freedom of movement, but a real threat that is actually taking place. As we have heard, one country after another is now setting up internal borders between Schengen countries where they should not exist. The Parliament has appealed for this debate to reaffirm the importance of Schengen, to reiterate the importance of freedom of movement, and to send out a clear message to the Council that European citizens can still enjoy freedom of movement and that we are ready to defend this freedom. I would also like the European Commission to be on our side in our fight in favour of freedom of movement.

 
  
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  Tanja Fajon (S&D). - (SL) Mr President, the Slovene press is full of headlines asking whether we might once more have to travel with passports. People are worried that we might lose our freedom of movement. The crisis has seriously shaken our citizens’ confidence.

For decades, we have worked to make the Union an area of free movement. The Council’s decision to exclude Parliament from decision making on the temporary introduction of controls within the Schengen area is unacceptable, regardless of any explanations. Any change to European border controls requires decision-making at a European level. A handful of people cannot decide on this behind closed doors without democratic control.

How do we ensure the governments of Member States do not bow to right-wing populism? Our record to date has not been good on that account.

Every year, more than a billion of us travel across the Union as tourists. We visit friends or relatives without needing a passport. Schengen is a symbol of Europe and I expect the Commission to firmly check any Schengen violations and the Cyprus Presidency to understand the sensitivity of the Schengen debate. We are at a very dangerous crossroads: truly, the confidence of our citizens is at stake.

 
  
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  Sophia in 't Veld (ALDE).(NL) Mr President, I would just like to respond to my fellow Member from the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), who said, a little bit disdainfully that Schengen is something that was dreamt up by idealists. My late grandfather had a one-man business for the import of office supplies and travelled from the Netherlands to Brussels and Paris every fortnight, by bicycle at first, in order to collect his products. Recently, I discovered from his old passports the evidence of what Europe looked like before Schengen. His passports were full of stamps – evidence of long waiting times, the requirement to declare foreign currency and the need to change money. He would have embraced Schengen, as it would have made his life so much easier. Talk about idealism!

Commissioner, the Commission needs to supervise compliance with the Schengen Code, not only in terms of the letter of the law, but also in terms of the spirit, and if there are eleven problem situations in Europe, then it is clear that the spirit of Schengen is under pressure. It is the core of the European project. If you are telling us that the situation in the Netherlands is not problematic, then I am surprised, as the fight against crime is not something that we only do in border regions, Ms Malmström, it is something we do right across the Netherlands. So, to agree with my fellow Member from the Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left, if they look like border controls, that is probably what they are.

 
  
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  Marian-Jean Marinescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, the Council’s decision of 8 June to change the legal basis of the regulation on the evaluation of the Schengen area may have adverse consequences on the Schengen area’s operation. If we really want to have a higher degree of transparency and democratic and judicial accountability in the way in which the Schengen rules are implemented and applied by Member States, we need to return to the basic treaty, and the discussion with Parliament needs to start again. In addition, it is difficult to accept that Member States which have weak points in their external borders are refusing to adopt a coordinated approach to evaluating the Schengen mechanism, while also blocking access to the Schengen area to Member States which, after the efforts they have made, have managed to achieve an extremely high level of security at their external borders.

By refusing the codecision procedure for the Schengen dossier, the Council is intending to retain a Schengen evaluation system which has proved at the moment to be ineffective at identifying non-compliance with the Schengen rules. This means that the EU prefers to tolerate illegal controls at internal borders or irregularities at external borders. Some Member States think that introducing internal borders will contribute to citizens’ security and help control the influx of migrants. Unfortunately, they are on the wrong track. The EU needs to focus on consolidating Schengen governance and on harmonising the security level at the external borders of all Member States.

Parliament wants to avoid a decline in current external border standards which are stipulated by European legislation. The current Schengen rules need to be revised to establish uniform external border standards, and this must also be legislated by Parliament as colegislator.

 
  
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  Birgit Sippel (S&D).(DE) Mr President, let me state quite plainly from the start that freedom of movement within the EU is not a national right and thus cannot be restricted solely on a national basis. As the only elected European institution, the European Parliament must be fully consulted and given a say on all questions, whether relating to changes in the Schengen area or violations of Schengen rules.

The reference to serious deficiencies at our external borders is dubious and factually incorrect. That is because the issue at stake is not just border controls, but also the excessive demands on some states immediately to investigate the legal status of every single refugee, thereby establishing clear perspectives for them. As Europeans, we must meet these challenges together, rather than sowing the seeds of uncertainty among our citizens with a crassly populist approach. This joint approach would be effective for our countries and our citizens, as well as for the refugees themselves. We should not regress to a parochial standpoint, because the fact is we need more Europe, not less.

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE). (CS) Mr President, we submitted another question to the Commission because, in the area of Schengen and visas, it has failed to fulfil its role sufficiently as guardian of the founding Treaties in recent years.

It is striking that it has tolerated systematic and frequent checks within Schengen for years, where more than half of Czech coaches are checked by the Bavarian police, without us knowing why. It also affects us MEPs, as we are checked on the way to Strasbourg. Despite all the warnings, including my own interventions, we have seen no strong reaction from the Commission. A year ago, the Netherlands constitutional court identified similar checks as a breach of Union law. Why does the Commission remain silent? Why does it not begin an investigation of countries that are in breach of community law?

The second problem is the non-functionality of Schengen’s external dimension, the joint visa policy. Many Member States today face unilateral visa obligations from third countries and cannot themselves respond reciprocally, since exclusive competence in this area rests with the Commission, which is again inactive. The unilateral imposition of Canadian visas for Czech citizens is now marking its dismal third anniversary, since the Commission is failing to fight for the rights of its citizens. On the contrary, the Commission is now fighting against the full involvement of the European Parliament in the regulation on visas granted by third countries and other regulations. This all undermines the trust of citizens in a European institution that is failing to protect one of the four key freedoms of the EU, the freedom of movement.

I must state in all seriousness that the Commission is entirely responsible for the current problems in this area, and so are you, Commissioner. You are reaping what you sowed. The seed you sowed may not trouble you, but it is indigestible for tens of millions of European citizens.

 
  
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  Carmen Romero López (S&D).(ES) Mr President, despite what we have heard from some Members, internal mobility has been our great triumph. Now people want to portray external border control as a huge failure, which is in their interests. The anti-foreigner populism that is invading our countries is now becoming hostile to our own people.

Before they were criminals or self-seeking immigrants who were coming to Europe to steal the fruits of our labours, or asylum seekers who were fraudsters because they were abusing our asylum system or, in reality, they were people traffickers disguised as asylum seekers. Now this knock-on effect, this contagion of populism that is invading us, has reached our internal borders.

We are seen as self-seeking or fraudsters by each other. Now it will be the Greeks in the United Kingdom. Otherwise we are members of organised mafias when our buses are stopped at borders that do not exist and officers get on to enforce customs rules that do not exist in order to see whether we are trading in illicit goods or trafficking people. Everything is contagious. The cancer that is eating away at us and the genuine failure in the 17 years of application of the Schengen Agreement is the populism of the parties that are governing in the Member States and the cowardice of those who are not defending the founding texts.

We cannot stop worrying, Ms Malmström. How can we not worry? Internal mobility is not a threat, it is our opportunity, and mobility with our neighbouring countries will be our solution. Do we need to organise that solution? Yes we do. Will populism achieve that? No, it will not. Does the problem lie in mobility, in the desire for adventure? Fortunately, it does not. Does the problem lie among those who are fleeing wars? No, it does not. Our real failure is when we do not face up to populism and do not provide solutions.

 
  
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  Georgios Papanikolaou (PPE).(EL) Mr President, we have recently given into an endless exchange of accusations on the question of the Schengen area. Sometimes we say that the state asking for internal border controls is to blame and sometimes we say that some other state is to blame, where the external borders of that state, which are also external borders of the Union, do not have adequate and secure border control as required for the Schengen area. I think that, whenever we give into such accusations, we lose direction. When the ‘fathers’ of the European Union founded our Union, they started from a basic assumption: that we are all to blame for failed policies. They said that we are all to blame and they arrived at a joint finding. Only if we all pull in the same direction can we resolve any problems that arise, because solidarity means taking joint responsibility. It does not just mean helping someone who may be in a weak position; it means jointly taking responsibility.

Within this framework, therefore, you will understand that it is very difficult for all of us, and for the public following us, to understand what happened last year between France and Italy or what is happening in terms of controls of Czech buses on the German borders or in similar cases on the Dutch borders. How, therefore, can we say that Greece is not acting as it should on its external borders, when Frontex itself admits that, without assistance from its partners and without assistance from Turkey, Greece cannot secure the borders on its own.

To close, please can we focus on that, Commissioner? I call on you, because we expect a great deal of the Commission. At this time, the Member States, with whose various representatives I have discussed the subject, are taking a fearful approach to the question of the assessment and changes that we have in the regulations and are taking the view that it is better for us to handle these matters and that we do not need anyone else. No, we want the Community method, we want Schengen to operate at a higher level, we want future generations to know that, at this time, we responded with more Europe, not less Europe and back-peddling on the subject.

 
  
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  Wim van de Camp (PPE).(NL) Mr President, the principle of the free movement of people, goods, services and capital is one of the cornerstones of the European Union. Thanks to the Treaty of Lisbon, the Schengen Agreements are now a key element of the European Union.

In times of growing nationalism and even populism, but also of rising crime and illegality, we need to very carefully monitor the Schengen Agreements and really keep our finger on the pulse when it comes to the interpretation of the agreements.

Personally, I support a broad interpretation of Schengen border controls – the Commissioner is well aware of this – but also supervision at Union level. That is what we agreed among ourselves, and it is a key element of European constitutional law. In light of that, I, too, am shocked by the decision of the European Council of 7 and 8 June to abandon, or to restrict, that supervision at Union level, the Community method. I am also pleased with the undertaking on the part of the President of the European Council that he wants to remedy that situation. We will judge him by his actions, however. This House, and I agree in this respect with all those who spoke before me, cannot be sidelined here.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8)).

 
  
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  Judith Sargentini (Verts/ALE), blue-card question.(NL) I have here a letter from the Dutch Minister for Immigration, a member of Mr Van de Camp’s party, dated 3 July 2012, stating that, as of 1 August, he will be intensifying the mobile surveillance of aliens or mobile security supervision – they keep changing the name somewhat. Is that the kind of broad interpretation of Schengen that Mr Van de Camp would like to see?

 
  
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  Wim van de Camp (PPE), blue-card answer.(NL) Unless I misunderstood, the Commissioner said this afternoon that an initial assessment of the mobile surveillance of aliens by the Commission concluded that it is not in contravention of the Schengen Agreements. If that mobile surveillance of aliens were to be abused in order to impede free movement for European citizens, then we would be on the wrong track.

As the Dutch minister says, however, it is precisely because of these problems relating to illegal activity that I was able to justify the mobile surveillance of aliens despite being aware that there are Dutch judges who have difficulties with it, and it seems to me that the Dutch minister can go ahead, but, once again, under supervision at Union level.

 
  
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  Hubert Pirker (PPE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, President-in-Office of the Council, unfortunately we must recognise the increasing frequency with which the Schengen Agreement is violated and we also know that not all external borders are monitored to the same high standards. We are aware that the Council clearly wants to decide for itself whether or not border controls are to be reintroduced for up to two years. This would be like the players in a football match deciding for themselves whether someone had committed a foul and whether or not there should be a penalty awarded. The majority in the European Parliament wants to avoid endangering our major achievement, namely freedom to travel without border controls, and we shall do all we can to ensure that this does not happen.

What does the European Parliament want? Naturally the European Parliament is in favour of introducing short-term border checks in emergency situations. If serious problems arise, we also require a decision to be taken about whether border controls are to be introduced and for how long. However, this must take place at European level following an objective examination by the Commission and, naturally, we also demand evaluation mechanisms, but also involving a subsequent decision at European level. The European Parliament and, I am sure, the majority of those here will vehemently support the continued assurance of security and freedom to travel – as guaranteed by the Schengen Agreement – so that actions with populist backing, such as those witnessed in Denmark, do not happen in the future.

Finally, I would call on the Council to do all it can to ensure that the interior ministers return to the path of common sense and cooperation.

 
  
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  Salvatore Iacolino (PPE).(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, the new Cyprus Presidency – we wish you success in your work – ladies and gentlemen, what we have heard today has made it very clear that there is a vast gulf between the position of the Council, which considers the Schengen issue we are discussing today simply to be a legal issue, and, on the other hand, the clear and coherent position of the Commission, which suggests quickly returning to the codecision procedure. The Council deprived us of our say on 6 and 7 June and we are relying on the Council recalling its sense of joint responsibility in this particular case.

Schengen is a product of civilisation, a real and, we would say, inalienable achievement: 40 000 km of land borders, almost 800 km of maritime borders, 25 countries involved and 400 million citizens. Citing the supposed problem of public safety is not enough to call into question something that remains an extremely valuable achievement.

Schengen, like the single market, is among the few accomplishments of the European Union which we can now say is responsible for there being even partial European citizenship. What is needed is more cooperation, more cooperation in policing and judicial terms, responsibility and solidarity. Parliament wants an open and integrated Europe, where everyone fully plays their part and that is another challenge that we want to achieve with the decisive contribution of the Commission and with a Council that restores solidarity in its relations with Parliament.

 
  
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  Jacek Protasiewicz (PPE). - (PL) Mr President, I come from a country that acceded to the European Union only recently, just in 2004. At that time, in a referendum, Poles spoke decisively in favour of European unity, in favour of membership of the European Union, just like the nations of all the other countries that were joining the European Union, as most of them took the decision by a general vote of this nature. In our countries and in particular in Poland there is still a high level of acceptance for the European Union, much higher than in the countries of the old Union. One of the principal reasons for this acceptance – and also the reason why the referendum decided in favour of joining the European Union – was the possibility of free movement throughout a Europe without borders, without passports, all of which became a reality through the Schengen Agreement.

Our role as representatives of our societies, as persons chosen in direct elections, is to protect those values that are dear to people, those issues regarding the European Union that are really important to them. The European Parliament must be involved in any decision concerning the future of Schengen and any return to internal frontiers. These are matters that are important to our electors and it is our responsibility to protect and defend those values that are dear to them. The role of governments is to ensure safety without affecting those basic values that are important for the citizens of Europe.

 
  
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  Marco Scurria (PPE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Schengen is an asset to Europe. Breaking down barriers between Member States was the first sign of something new that was starting to take shape: no more barriers but unity; no more controls but solidarity between states, which are no longer divided but united in a single great Union. That is why it is odd to hold this debate today. We seem to have taken a step backwards and it appears that we are abandoning the foundations of our fine Union.

If Schengen fails, the European Union fails, but if Schengen is so important it should be protected, as precious things are. It should be protected from a Council that thinks it can bypass Parliament’s prerogatives, but it should also be protected from anything that can call Schengen itself into question. External border control should therefore be strengthened with all the legislative and technological instruments we have because, if our borders are at risk of becoming porous, this automatically makes our Member States less flexible, and they could call for stricter control, even within our borders, to prevent the entry of illegal immigrants. We cannot allow that and for that I thank Commissioner Malmström for all her work and her future collaboration on this issue.

 
  
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  Monika Hohlmeier (PPE).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that Schengen is one of the greatest achievements in the European Union, however I am also aware that our Member States are sensitive of their borders and are likely to remain so. I am aware that the problems that exist between the Member States in relation to Schengen cannot simply be ignored. These problems are many and varied. Ignoring these problems does not make them any better or easier to resolve.

I live near the border with the Czech Republic and no one on our side would ever dream of simply closing the border again when problems are encountered. I would also call on the Commission to offer support in this area, rather than restrictions and rebukes. Dragnet controls were incorporated because we wish to ensure security while still allowing freedom to travel. If we are to be successful in implementing dragnet controls at locations that are frequent crossing points for drug dealers, such as the Czech border in particular, then I believe it is best for the German and Czech interior ministers to sit down together to find a joint solution to the problems that exist at the border. The Commission should not adopt a regulatory role here, but rather a positive supporting role.

We wish to rein in the populists, but also to resolve the real problems in a concerted approach. That is why I am also calling on the Council to seek a solution together with Parliament, so that we can successfully conclude the Schengen dossier, upholding freedom to travel while also ensuring the security of our citizens.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Pier Antonio Panzeri (S&D).(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the choice made by the Council on 7 June does not just concern European internal policy; as you can imagine, it also has an impact outside Europe. Everyone here has said that the free movement of people is one of the greatest European achievements in a Europe that is defined by it. However, restricting that free movement actually implies and portrays a feeling of mistrust that the Council is trying to distil among European countries and into European public opinion, which risks destroying the European project.

For some time we have been calling for innovative and modern European governance on the migration issue. What you are doing, though, renationalises immigration policy. You are making rights and freedoms take a backward step, but these choices are likely to have a negative impact on another front, in that they reveal a certain schizophrenia in the action taken by Europe in its various policies.

Together we have decided that one of the pillars of the new neighbourhood policy is mobility, a core element of the new European approach, for example towards a changing area such as the Mediterranean. What message are we sending out to these countries, apart from a message of distrust and lack of credibility?

 
  
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  Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (PPE). - (PL) Mr President, I would like to ask Ms Malmström to announce a ‘Zero tolerance for Schengen non-compliance’ programme. What we have been seeing over the past 18 months is a gradual undermining of the Schengen provisions, which represent the cornerstone of the European Union. Various countries, under various pretexts, are beginning to introduce temporary, transitional, hidden or open controls while we are focusing primarily on fiscal union, talking about the Euro, the crisis, a banking union and, in my opinion, we are not paying sufficient attention to these successive steps taken by various countries. I would therefore strongly encourage a ‘Zero tolerance for Schengen non-compliance’ programme, as it is only in this way that we can avoid further erosion of the Schengen system.

 
  
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  Franziska Keller (Verts/ALE).(DE) Mr President, the cases of disproportionate border checks listed by Parliament in its question also show why the Council is seeking to exclude Parliament with regard to Schengen. The fact is that the Council wants to continue to undermine freedom to travel without involving Parliament in the decision-making process, without any form of parliamentary control or public debate. It is hardly surprising, then, that it would prefer to avoid awkward questions and withdraw to backrooms where its members can pat themselves on the back. We should not be surprised that the German Government wants to prevent an evaluation of the internal borders and is unwilling to consider just how much freedom to travel is restricted. However, Schengen does not belong to the governments, but rather to the people of Europe and therefore it also belongs in the European Parliament.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková-Beňová (S&D). – (SK) Mr President, the establishment of the Schengen area is, according to the inhabitants of the EU Member States, one of our greatest successes. Up to 62% of EU Member State citizens stated in a survey that they considered it to be the greatest common European success and benefit.

Yet it is right now, at a time when we need to show our citizens that we are prepared to cooperate more closely, and that closer cooperation will strengthen the EU and move us further forward, right now that the Council comes up with a proposal that is absolutely unacceptable to us.

The controls that it will be possible to introduce for a period of six months and, moreover, that it will be possible to renew so that they potentially last for up to two years, are simply unacceptable to us. We cannot agree with this decision. Furthermore, we believe that it will be counterproductive since it is a direct attack on the guarantee of free travel and freedom of movement.

In conclusion, I would just like to add that, more and more, and ever more often, the Council takes decisions of this type without collaborating with the European Parliament, and without properly collaborating with the European Commission.

Commissioner, let us join forces – Parliament and the Commission – and hold the mirror up to the Council!

 
  
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  Norica Nicolai (ALDE).(RO) Mr President, I welcome this debate and regard it as being useful for two reasons. This is because it is a debate about the institutional relations between the three European institutions and it is the first time that the Council is taking the liberty to ignore one of the institutions which has the legitimacy required to meet the aspirations and scrutiny of European citizens. The Council must realise that Parliament is the only European institution which has increased democratic legitimacy. We are elected here by popular vote and represent the interests of Europe’s citizens. Greater cohesion is in the interest of Europe’s citizens, and greater cohesion means more space and greater freedom of movement.

I do not believe that, if we have governments unable to provide suitable solutions to the crisis and resorting to populist measures, we need to return to feudalism which was not, not even during the feudal period, characteristic of Europe because the freedom of movement is taken for granted and was not created by the European Union. Europe’s citizens have understood very clearly that this is what unites them in terms of culture and civilisation.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, we need to recognise that the removal of border controls has not just brought us advantages, such as convenient travel. These open borders have also naturally resulted in illegal immigration, while also making it child’s play for international criminal organisations to operate throughout Europe. You will all be aware of the undesirable side-effects: homes have been burgled, houses stripped bare, cars stolen, people trafficked, while we in this House seem almost oblivious. The situation has been worsened by the permeable Turkish-Greek border: in 2011 alone, 300 000 illegal aliens entered the European Union. Against this background, it was high time for the interior ministers to take action, which is why I find it impossible to understand the hysterical outcry in this House.

Let me turn to the Commissioner: Ms Malmström, when you claim that the waves of refugees entering Europe do not represent a threat to public security, despite 300 000 illegal immigrants from south-eastern Europe alone, then I do not know if you are living in the real world or ever talk to real people. Let me extend an invitation to you: come to the regions, for example my homeland, Austria. There you will meet with members of the public who are affected by this problem, who are anything but populists but who have justified concerns.

 
  
 

(End of the catch-the-eye procedure)

 
  
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  Andreas Mavroyiannis, President-in-Office of the Council. − Mr President, it is a difficult discussion. I hope that nobody really questions the intentions of the Cyprus Presidency.

The Council firmly believes that the new arrangements for Schengen governance, which are already in place, provide a solid basis for ensuring greater oversight of developments in the Schengen area, including by the European Parliament. Please allow me in this intervention to limit myself to the issue at hand and not comment on external borders, although we all know that the two questions are interlinked.

The Council very much wants Parliament to be involved in the ongoing process on the legislative aspects of the new Schengen governance arrangements. That includes not only the proposal for amending the Schengen Borders Code, which remains – as many of you very rightly mentioned – subject to the ordinary legislative procedure (codecision) but also the Schengen evaluation mechanism proposal. And in saying this I really weigh my words.

My plea to all of you is that we at least agree now to define, confine and circumscribe the disagreement that indeed exists between the European Parliament and the Council to one question, and that is the question of evaluation.

The honourable rapporteur, Mr Coelho, will allow me to say and to insist that there is also a fundamentally legal question and, please do not get me wrong, I am not doing away with the political sensitivities and political aspects of this. But when it comes to evaluation there is an issue on whether, under the Treaty, evaluation remains a peer review or whether it is a competence which has been transferred to the Community level. And somewhere there is agreement there. We should not have a very passionate debate on this – let us talk and let us find a way forward! But please do not consider that it is about lowering existing standards and guarantees.

The Council is already publicly committed to ensuring that the view of the European Parliament will, to the fullest extent possible, be taken into consideration in all its aspects before the adoption of the final text.

We have, of course, also taken very good note of all the comments and, I assure you, all the criticisms you addressed to the Council and be assured that we do not take it badly and we will convey the ‘heat’ we received to the Council and to the Member States.

Based on this, we will try our utmost to find a satisfactory way forward and we hope that we can come to a mutually satisfactory understanding as to how that can be given a practical expression, thus enabling work on these proposals to be brought to a successful conclusion in the very near future.

Let me conclude by saying that we remain as committed as all of you to preserving and strengthening the free movement of persons, as one of the most tangible and successful achievements of European integration.

We firmly believe in a European Union as a space of freedom, including the fundamental issue of freedom of movement, to which Schengen makes an outstanding contribution.

Of course we will fully respect the Treaty and the framework of the Treaty, but we of course stand ready to discuss, and see what improvements we can bring.

 
  
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  Cecilia Malmström, Member of the Commission. − Mr President, as part of strengthening the Schengen governance, the Commission also proposed that we would have regular discussions on the state of play – the health check – of Schengen. This would be an opportunity to discuss among Ministers the shortcomings and challenges of Schengen on a regular basis. It would take place twice a year based on a report issued by the Commission. The first debate took place last June, and I immediately sent the report to the European Parliament as well, and I am of course willing to discuss with you how we can involve the European Parliament even more in those discussions.

In that report we identified 11 cases that we had been investigating for the last six months. Some of them could very well lead to infringement proceedings but, as I tried to explain on the two cases that you brought up in your oral questions, it is sometimes very difficult to get information and that is why we are now working very hard with Germany and the Czech Republic, including with the Czech bus companies, to see if we can get more information, so they have enough evidence to really bring the issue forward. Moreover, we are also issuing guidelines to the Member States, the first concerning travel documents, because of the background of the discussion between France and Italy on the travel documents of Tunisians, and we are also in regular contact with the Member States to see if there are other issues where we would need guidelines.

So, Ms Weber, everything is not shiny and rosy in Schengen. There are problems, and it is because of this that we proposed a strengthening of the evaluation mechanism, so that we would have the possibility of identifying possible shortcomings very early on and working with the member countries, using all the tools that we have at our disposal to hopefully remedy the shortcomings at our borders.

Mr President-in-Office, that is why we proposed to move from a peer-to-peer-based review to a Commission-led review. It is not because the Commission needs more powers per se, it is because we need an independent European-based system so that we can make sure that we have a compulsory action plan by the relevant Member States and that we can also avoid possible domestic pressures – populism, etc. – which could lead to a reinstallation of internal borders that is not in line with the acquis. That would imply a change of the legal base, also involving the European Parliament.

We maintain that view from the Commission side. Schengen is a European achievement, and that is why we need a European-based governance of Schengen. I hope that after the well-deserved summer break for everybody, we can sit together and see whether there is a way to find a good solution that all institutions can approve.

 
  
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  President. - The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE), in writing. – (RO) European citizens regard the freedom of movement as part of the main practical benefits delivered by European integration. At the same time, it consolidates the formation of a single area of freedom, security and justice. Any decision intent on restricting this right must be well justified, be adopted after careful consideration, and be an exceptional measure with a strictly defined time limit. Clear criteria and conditions need to be established for situations where internal border controls can be applied, and Parliament is entitled to be closely involved in devising and monitoring them. The unjustified delay in Romania’s accession to Schengen is already a de facto act of discrimination against millions of European citizens. If internal border controls are going to be applied illegally on top of this, this will threaten one of the foundations of European integration. I appeal to all European leaders not to give in to populist temptations and to defend the freedom of movement. I also call on the Commission to monitor closely Member States’ compliance with the Schengen acquis and to take a prompt stance in the event of any abuse. Last but not least, I call for a clear decision to be adopted in September, along with a precise timetable for Romania’s accession to Schengen.

 
  
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  Sebastian Valentin Bodu (PPE), in writing.(RO) Creating the Schengen area plays an important role in the process of consolidating and strengthening the European Union. This area has provided benefits for all Member States, both in economic terms as a result of the free movement of goods between internal borders, and for European citizens who can travel freely without being checked every time they cross an internal border.

Thanks to the actions of opportunist politicians, motivated by their desire to attract populist votes, the Schengen system has been repeatedly attacked, with it being used as a kind of scapegoat to increase their popularity at the ballot box. This can also be noticed in the case of Bulgaria and Romania where, although they have fulfilled all the criteria required to join the Schengen area, the final decision is still pending.

 
  
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  Kinga Gál (PPE), in writing.(HU) Today’s debate is once again about the Community’s carefully guarded asset, which to European citizens is the most important of the EU acquis, not to mention young people, nearly 90% of whom agree with the importance of the freedom of movement according to a survey by the European Youth Parliament. Cracks have begun to form in this Community acquis as a result of a practice applied by the old Member States, namely the increasingly frequent controls of travellers and buses from new Member States. In the midst of the economic and financial crisis, where there is an increasingly urgent need for Community trust, some Member States are thereby reinforcing mistrust. This shakes the very foundations of the system. We could see a similar loss of trust when the Council adopted its decision in early July. I therefore request the Council to do everything within its power to enable us to move forward from the deadlock between Parliament and the Council as soon as possible and to develop Schengen governance together. I am also asking this so that in September we can welcome the two Member States awaiting accession, Romania and Bulgaria, with trust into the Schengen Area.

 
  
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  Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD), in writing.(EL) The Commission’s report on breaches of Schengen rules states that 75% of illegal immigrants entered the Schengen area via the Greek-Turkish border. The question of illegal immigration should be addressed overall at European level and particular measures need to be taken for the Member States that lie on the EU borders, as they are under the greatest pressure at this difficult time of economic crisis. I consider that the Dublin II Regulation needs to be revised and reviewed, because it places a disproportionate burden, in terms of managing illegal immigration, on the countries via which illegal immigrants enter. The restoration of controls on the external borders of the area proposed by the Commission and the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council does not address the problem on the ground and highlights the political isolation of individual Member States.

 
  
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  Joanna Katarzyna Skrzydlewska (PPE), in writing. (PL) The Schengen Agreement, which was concluded 27 years ago, is one of the key achievements of our Union and one that particularly affects EU citizens. Ease of travel is exceptionally important for the citizens of our continent and it is enormously appreciated. For this reason, under no circumstances should the right to free movement of persons be restricted, nor should there be any exceptions to compliance. Likewise the views of the European Parliament concerning the future of the Agreement should not be ignored since the European Parliament represents European citizens, 62% of whom consider the Schengen Agreement to be the greatest achievement of the European Union. We cannot destroy the soul of the Union, especially at a time when people are raising questions about European unity. Open frontiers are a symbol that we should defend. Instances of traffic controls at the border between the Netherlands and Belgium or Czech buses at the German border are the best argument in favour of furthering and deepening work to develop Schengen area regulations. These activities should be carried out with the cooperation of all European Union institutions. In this regard, the Council should return to the path of cooperation with MEPs and the European Commission concerning regulations regarding a new mechanism to evaluate Schengen. In my opinion this is the only way to ensure proper functioning of the Schengen area and to respect citizens’ rights in this regard.

 
  
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  Josef Weidenholzer (S&D), in writing. – (DE) Freedom to travel is one of the greatest achievements in Europe, alongside the common currency, the euro. Both of these are being sacrificed to short-term interests. Such policies will not achieve the successes hoped for by the populists, nor will they provide an answer to the problems of the world awaiting a solution. Nonetheless, the practice of pursuing symbolic policies is becoming increasingly prevalent, suggesting a willingness to take action, while actually avoiding a genuine solution to the problem. For many years, Europe’s interior ministers have been unable to agree on the fair distribution of refugees, Europe has failed in terms of neighbourhood policy and is pulling back from development cooperation. These elementary issues must be resolved as a priority, however, as otherwise even Schengen will not really work. Suspending the Schengen mechanism will not solve the problems. This must only be permitted in exceptional circumstances, if at all. Any decision reached in this regard must not be affected by populist influences. It must be taken at European level with the involvement of the European Parliament.

 
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