Diplomatic and Military Affairs

EU members wrestle over border issues

Updated: 2011-09-17 08:08

(China Daily)

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BRUSSELS - The European Commission on Friday released plans to better manage internal borders in the Schengen passport-free travel zone, drawing the ire of countries refusing to hand Brussels such powers.

Cherished by travelers who can enjoy unfettered across Europe, the Schengen agreement faces an overhaul after changes were demanded by several EU states worried about sudden waves of immigration.

At the moment, governments are allowed to temporarily deploy border guards during terror threats or major events such as football games or summits, but countries are seeking more leeway to reclaim control.

Under draft legislation to be unveiled by the European Commission, border controls could also be reintroduced to deal with unexpected migration flows or if a Schengen country fails to police its frontiers with non-EU nations.

The commission's proposal would still allow governments to unilaterally reinstate patrols in urgent situations, but only for a five-day period. For longer periods, countries would need a green light from the EU's executive arm, something governments are unlikely to accept.

"It's unacceptable. An urgent situation, by definition, lasts more than five days," a European diplomat said.

French, German and Spanish interior ministers said this week that the proposal goes too far, arguing that a decision to restore border controls is the remit of national governments.

In a joint statement, the three ministers said, "we believe that respecting the core area of national sovereignty is very important to the member states. We therefore do not share the European Commission's views on assuming responsibility for making decisions on operational measures in the security field."

The 25-nation Schengen area faced controversy when Europe's Mediterranean nations voiced fears of seeing waves of illegal migrants from North Africa on their shores earlier this year.

France and Italy traded barbs when Rome handed out temporary papers to thousands of Tunisian migrants, enabling them to head for France. Paris in response sent border guards and stopped trains at the French-Italian border.

Over the summer, Denmark faced criticism from Brussels when it unilaterally decided to deploy permanent customs controls at its German and Swedish borders.

Michele Cercone, a European Commission spokesman, defended the proposal. "Our proposal does not target Denmark, Greece, Italy or France. Our proposal is being made to reinforce Schengen."

Agence France-Presse


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