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Back to Schengen: Commission takes next steps towards lifting of temporary internal border controls

The Commission has today proposed a Recommendation, to be decided upon by the Council, to prolong proportionate controls at certain internal Schengen borders, namely in Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Norway for a maximum period of six months. National measures have already been introduced by these countries to address the threat to public policy and internal security resulting from the secondary movements of irregular migrants. Today’s draft Recommendation proposes to extend these measures, in line with the Schengen Borders Code, as, and despite significant progress made by Greece, not all of the serious deficiencies identified could be adequately and comprehensively addressed within the three months’ limit.

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “The Greek authorities have delivered huge efforts and there is real progress on the ground. Moreover, the EU-Turkey agreement has dramatically reduced the arrivals in Greece. However, there is still is considerable migratory pressure at our external border, and large numbers of migrants present in Greece. Therefore, as long as serious deficiencies in border management persist some internal border control measures should be maintained. We have a clear roadmap to return to a normal functioning of the Schengen zone by November and we need to get there in an orderly way. We preserve Schengen by applying Schengen.

Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Schengen is one of the greatest achievements of the European Union, and our unchanged ultimate ambition is to restore normality in the Schengen area. In the meantime, as we still face deficiencies at out external borders, this requires us to take temporary steps to allow for the extension of internal border controls exceptionally. Greece in particular, as well as countries along the Western Balkan Route, are still hosting a large number of asylum seekers and irregular migrants, who may present a risk of secondary movements. Greece has made considerable progress and is on the right path and the European Commission is continuously providing comprehensive support to the Greek authorities.”

Since a Schengen evaluation in November 2015 identified serious deficiencies in Greece’s external border management, significant progress has been made in addressing many of the issues – notably with the registration process of irregular migrants having improved greatly, both in terms of equipment and human resources. The initial implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement together with the ongoing NATO and Frontex operations has also led to a sharp decrease in the number of irregular migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Aegean into Greece.

However, at present, the Commission’s findings – also based on a Schengen evaluation visit to Greece from 10 to 16 April – show that because of some persistent deficiencies, there is still a risk of significant secondary movements which had prompted several Member States to temporarily reintroduce internal border controls. Moreover, the sustainability of the sharp drop in numbers seen over the last weeks still needs to be confirmed.

The overall functioning of the Schengen area is therefore still at risk and therefore, based on the information at its disposal, the Commission has proposed that the Council adopts a Recommendation to those Member States currently carrying out internal border controls, inviting them to continue carrying out targeted and measured controls at specific borders for a limited period of six months to address the serious threat identified. These Member States should during this period keep the controls under regular review, and adjust them to the level of threat identified.

Specifically, the Commission proposes that the Council recommends that 5 countries maintain the following internal border controls for a further period of six months:

  • Austriaat the Austrian-Hungarian land border and Austrian-Slovenian land border;
  • Germanyat the German-Austrian land border;
  • Denmarkin the Danish ports with ferry connections to Germany and at the Danish-German land border;
  • Swedenin the Swedish harbours in the Police Region South and West and at the Öresund bridge;
  • Norwayin the Norwegian ports with ferry connections to Denmark, Germany and Sweden.

These measures, foreseen under the Schengen Borders Code, act as a safeguard for the overall functioning of the area without internal border controls. The Commission’s objective is to return to a normally functioning Schengen area and to lift all internal border controls by the end of 2016, in line with the “Back to Schengen” Roadmap.

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