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EU Looks to Build Strategy for Stronger Schengen Area

Photo source: European Parliament.

Photo source: European Parliament.

Building a stronger and more resilient Schengen area was at the top of the agenda of the first ever Schengen Forum, held on Monday by the European Commission.

The videoconference gathered members of the European Parliament and ministers of Home Affairs with the aim of fostering cooperation and political dialogue as well as rebuilding trust.

Internal border checks reintroduced 205 times since 2015

“It has been 35 years since a number of Member States agreed to remove border controls between themselves. From five countries at the time, the Schengen Area grew to 26, counting 420 million citizens,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, adding that recent years have strained Schengen.

As noted by von der Leyen, between 2006 and 2014, over nine years, internal border checks were reintroduced 35 times.

“But since 2015, in less than five years, internal border checks were reintroduced 205 times. This is a significant increase. We need to understand the reasons behind it and address them urgently. Fact is that the challenges Schengen faces today are not the same as 25 years ago,” the Commission’s president said.

Cars waiting to pass a border control. Photo source: European Parliament.

Cars waiting to pass a border control. Photo source: European Parliament.

Covid-19 and Schengen

Referring to the Covid-19 crisis, von der Leyen said that the first months of the pandemic showed what happens when Schengen stops functioning. “Europe grinds to a halt,” she said.

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said the coronavirus pandemic has shown how the EU needs Schengen.

Moving freely within the EU is a daily necessity for millions of Europeans for work or school for instance. It’s also crucial for companies transporting goods around Europe. Schengen can be our lifeline when it comes to Europe’s economic recovery post-coronavirus. That is why our discussions on building a more resilient Schengen are so important,” Johansson said.

During the first Schengen Forum, the discussions focused on:

Source: European Parliament.

Source: European Parliament.

Improving the mechanism to evaluate the implementation of the Schengen rules through options for operational improvements as well as legislative changes to the mechanism.

Revising the Schengen Borders Code to ensure that any possible reintroduction of controls at internal borders in the future is proportionate, used as a measure of last resort and for a limited period of time.

Better managing of the EU’s external borders by quickly putting in place the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Traveller Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). The systems are said to complement existing databases such as the Schengen Information System or the Visa Information System, which need to be used in full.

Photo source: European Parliament.

Enhancing police cooperation, information exchange and better use of new technologies to guarantee security within the Schengen area. It was discussed that police checks can also constitute an effective alternative to the reintroduction of border controls.

Strengthening the governance of the Schengen area through regular meetings of the Schengen Forum, based on reports provided by the Commission, to ensure the political involvement of all relevant players.

According to von der Leyen, the discussions at the forum will feed into the Schengen Strategy that the Commission intends to present in mid-2021.

In addition, the Commission said that targeted consultations at technical level will also take place with representatives from the European Parliament and national authorities over the next months.  

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