Event report “Saving Schengen: discussing the options”

This blog post was written by our guest blogger: Gabriel Almeida, trainee DG D (Justice and Home Affairs)

The European Policy Centre hosted on 2 June 2016 a policy dialogue entitled “Saving Schengen: discussing the options”, providing a very timely discussion in view of the extension of temporary border checks by a number of Member States, the Commission’s legislative package to reform the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), and the elaboration of different sets of ideas on how to systematically manage migration (taking into account the example of Italy’s “Migration Compa
ct” and Hungary’s “Schengen 2.0”).

Mr Szabolcs Takács, State Secretary for EU Affairs at the Hungarian Prime Minister’s office, indicated that after decades of free movement within the Schengen area, discussions on the reintroduction of border controls are now very much alive. There is no obvious solution to this crisis. The arrivals of over 800,000 migrants in 2015 in Greece alone and the burden on Member States’ asylum systems (for instance, Germany received nearly 500,000 asylum applications in 2015) put migration at the top of the political agenda.

schengen II

Mr Takáks highlighted that the CEAS proved ill-equipped to cope with the high migratory influx. While the Commission and Member States sought emergency solutions, such as the establishment of hotspots and the decisions on relocation from Italy and Greece, it soon became clear that the EU needed a new, broad approach to migration. Mr Takács emphasized that Members States look ready to find common solutions ranging from internal solidarity to cooperation with countries of transit and origin.

Mr Marco Peronaci, Special Advisor of the Italian Minister of Interior, argued that if Schengen is not saved, European trade and progress will be at risk. That is why Italy presented its “Migration Compact”, which focuses on using EU’s financial, development and diplomatic tools to cooperate with third countries to improve border controls, reduce immigration flows and agree on readmission agreements. The plan is not to abolish migration, explained Mr Peronaci, but to manage it together with third countries.

schengen map

Mr Peronaci considered the EU must adopt a proactive approach to migration. It must also do more to offer legal migration pathways to highly skilled immigrants, those seeking family reunification, and those willing to comply with integration requirements. Additional efforts on resettlement are also important to offer refugees a safe way to seek protection in the EU, curbing smugglers’ activities.

While there seems to be no disagreement on the need for externalising migration policies (particularly by cooperating with transit countries such as Libya and Turkey),  Italy and Hungary have opposite views on the future of the Dublin Regulation. While Italy favours more solidarity in the form of the allocation of quotas to alleviate the pressure of border states, Hungary strongly opposes any obligatory quota of responsibility. This conflict of ideas, downplayed by Mr Peronaci and Mr Takács as a single dissent among many points of agreement, will play a key role in shaping the debate on the European Commission’s proposal to recast the Dublin III Regulation.

Regardless of this discussion, European citizens have much to gain from a more coordinated approach to migration. As recalled by Ms Alexandra Gatto, policy analyst at the European Parliamentary Research Service, the Eurobarometer has shown that Schengen is considered one of the greatest achievements of the EU. The consequences of a “non-Schengen” scenario would not only be felt in the daily life of millions of citizens, but would also have severe effects to police cooperation and the fight against cross-border crime.SchengenQuader

Ms Gatto recalled, however, that the reintroduction of temporary border checks is allowed and envisaged by the Schengen Borders Code, in some circumstances and following the principles of necessity and proportionality. Moreover, the European Commission is now pursuing its “Back to Schengen” plan to secure external borders and guarantee free movement (for instance, by proposing a European Border and Coast Guard, to strengthen and extend the mandate of Frontex). Only by guaranteeing the coordination between EU institutions and Member States, by pursuing the harmonisation of Member States’ asylum systems and by putting migration at the top of the EU’s external relations agenda, can Schengen be preserved.

In a nutshell, different options to guarantee the normality of the Schengen Area are being put on the table. Due to its relations with the asylum acquis and its high value to the history of European integration, Schengen is certainly not overlooked. Many actors will push for different ideas on the field of migration, but there seems to be little disagreement that the outcome of the discussion must ensure that Schengen remains alive and well.

For further reading on Schengen, make sure to consult our catalogue.

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