The President of France Emmanuel Macron has demanded an overhaul to the current free-travel rules of the Schengen Area. The proposal will be put before the European Council in December and could change the nature of the open-borders region in the near future.
Macron has called for a “refoundation” of the Schengen Agreement to increase security at the borders of the European Union and the affiliated countries that are also part of Schengen. The original agreement enshrined the principles of free movement that have been an integral part of the bloc until now.
It is unknown how the planned border control reforms will affect the upcoming ETIAS travel authorization system.
An Overhaul of Schengen Area Border Controls
Following the recent terror attacks in Paris and Nice, French President Macron has called for reforms of the Schengen Area’s policy regarding open borders and free travel.
One of the key points is the tightening of border controls at the edges of the EU, where thousands of migrants a year cross into countries like Italy and Spain.
Macron’s words echo an announcement made by Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in September, in which she said that a new strategy for the future of Schengen would be proposed.
Eric Mamer, chief spokesperson for the European Commission confirmed that “We are discussing the future of Schengen in an ongoing process and we are trying to adapt to the way it functions to the new realities.”
When will the border control reforms for Schengen happen?
President Von der Leyen has said that her proposed strategy for changes to Schengen border controls will be finalized by summer 2021.
Macron plans to submit his proposal for the reforms to the December European Council and aims to have the overhaul implemented when France holds the presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2022.
November 2020 Press Conference from European Leaders
The proposed Schengen Area border reforms were the topic of a conference between Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Ursula Von der Leyen, and President of the European Council Charles Michel on November 10, 2020.
The 4 leaders voiced their concerns and the need to improve security in the Schengen Area. Merkel pointed to the upcoming ETIAS as one way of achieving this.
As well as tightening external border security, other suggestions were made, such as implementing initiatives to prevent the radicalization of young people by removing extremist content from the internet more quickly.
Von der Leyen reiterated her commitment to reforming Schengen security protocols, saying that on December 9, the European Commision “will present a new program to fight terrorism in Europe.”
She went on to say:
“We will present in May 2021 a new Schengen program that will be dealing with migration issues, strengthening the functions of EUROPOL and EURODAC, and the need for better police cooperation.”
Macron stated that reforming Schengen was vital, listing 3 areas that needed to be strengthened:
- Security at the external borders
- Mechanisms for assessing how well Schengen is functioning
- The governance of the Schengen Area
The French leader pointed out that there is no political monitoring of issues such as internal security, asylum, and migration, suggesting the formation of an internal security council for the region.
Macron also said that if these areas were not sufficiently improved that France would not support the continued right to freedom of movement:
“Our own public opinions will not continue to support the freedom of movement without internal borders unless we strongly reform the Schengen area. We have seen that in the time of pandemic, we have seen it when it comes to terrorism.”
Schengen Area Border Controls: How Do They Currently Work?
The Schengen Area is known as an open-borders region. All 26 member states officially abolished passport checks and other types of controls at their shared borders, only maintaining checks on travelers arriving from 3rd countries.
However, in certain situations, such as migration crises or states of emergency, Schengen member countries can impose border checks and increase security. This has happened several times since 2006.
The European Commission warns against these exceptions, since internal border controls within the Schengen Area undermine the principles of free movement upon which the organization was founded.
The new reforms to Schengen border controls proposed by Macron could see a change in the fundamental rules of the region.
Which Schengen countries currently have border checks?
Since the terrorist attack on the Bataclan concert hall in 2015, France has been conducting border checks on those arriving from any country including Schengen members.
The following countries also perform checks on certain border crossings and flight connections:
Some Schengen member states are currently performing border checks as part of the ongoing European travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Increasing the Security of the Schengen Area
There are already plans underway to increase security at the Schengen Area’s external borders. Frontex, the EU’s border protection agency, has committed to deploy around 10,000 new guards to the borders in January.
The December meeting of the European Council will discuss the idea of reforming the bloc’s policies on migration and asylum and has been dubbed the “Schengen Forum”.
France is taking the initiative to strengthen its own borders, in line with its state of emergency. President Macron announced that “We will increase from 2,400 to 4,800 police officers, soldiers who will be mobilized to fight against illegal immigration.” He stressed that this would aid in the fight against terrorism.
The member states of the Schengen Area also plan to introduce a new travel authorization system called ETIAS in 2022, which will help to improve security for visa-free travelers arriving from outside the Schengen Area, such as the US. Americans will be able to complete an ETIAS application form for US citizens to register with the system online.
How Will the Proposed Reforms Affect the Schengen Borders?
It is currently unknown whether the reforms President Macron intends to propose will be approved by the European Council. It is also unclear how extreme the measures to tighten security will be.
The European Commission advocates against internal border control, saying that such restriction of movement undermines the principles of the EU and Schengen Area.
It also cites the lack of hard evidence that countries like France have improved security by introducing border checks with other Schengen member states.
While there are plans to boost security with extra Frontex staff, the European Commission maintains that it is “unlikely that extreme internal border controls will be implemented.”