Following French President Emmanuel’s call for a “refoundation” of the Schengen Agreement for freedom of movement, chief spokesman for the European Commission Eric Mamer has confirmed that the EU is planning to overhaul Shengen Area borders to enforce new security controls for Europe.
After Macron pledged to double police and military presence at France’s borders in response to recent terrorist attacks in Nice and Paris, it was confirmed that a reform of Schengen Area security would be discussed in a conference on November 10th, 2020.
The conference, centered around the subject of the European response to terrorism, will be attended by Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and Charles Michel, the President of the European Council.
Speaking on behalf of Ursula Von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, Mamer 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”.
Macron Pushes for Schengen Internal Security Reform
At the virtual press conference on November 10th, Macron put forward a proposal to introduce an internal security council body to regulate asylum, migration, and safety protocols within the Schengen Area. He stressed his belief that freedom of movement between Schengen countries could not viably continue if this was not the case.
Chancellor Kurtz agreed with Macron and also stressed that training programs for religious leaders and increased monitoring of the internet were further necessary steps to combat extremist ideologies and terrorism in Europe.
This sentiment was also echoed by Chancellor Merkel, who confirmed the issue would be a top priority on the agenda of the European Council in December. She also suggested that she would like to see the implementation of further regulations around the broadcasting of hate speech.
Regarding the issue of strengthening external Schengen borders, Merkel stressed that several projects are already underway to improve security, including the implementation of a mandatory travel authorization program for ETIAS countries in 2022.
Von der Leyden added that a meeting of the Schengen Forum is already planned for May 2021. She confirmed that a new Schengen program would be initiated, and topics such as migration issues, better police cooperation, and how to strengthen the functions of EUROPOL, EURODAC, and the Schengen information system would be discussed.
Current Schengen Area Security Controls
Internal Schengen Area border controls have been in place since 2006, but have been increasingly enforced since 2015, particularly in France where a state of emergency related to terrorism concerns has been ongoing for the past 5 years.
Other countries in the Schengen Area, including Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, and Sweden, continue to impose internal controls because of concerns around migration.
The European Commission previously issued an ultimatum that all of the controls should be removed by 2016, citing concerns that the checks could undermine the free movement between states permitted under the Schengen Agreement.
However, this policy was reformed following pressure from Germany to extend the controls, and the checks remain in place to this day. It now seems as if the controls could further be extended following the recent demands from Macron.
At a press conference on November 5th in Le Perthus on the border with Spain, the French President already confirmed plans to further strengthen France’s borders with the deployment of up 4,800 police officers and soldiers to fight against illegal immigration and “networks of traffickers who have links with terrorism”.
Existing Plans to Reform Schengen Border Controls
Macron’s calls to “intensify our common border protection with a real security police force at the external borders” to keep Europe safe match plans previously announced by the European Commission in September 2020.
Following the organization’s recent wide reform of the EU policies on migration and asylum, European Commission Presiden Ursula Von der Leyen confirmed that a new strategy for the future of the Schengen Area would be discussed at the 2020 December European Council meeting and finalized by the summer of 2021.
Macron has since confirmed that France plans to submit its first proposals for the overhaul at the December meeting and has pledged to have the reform agreed upon under the French presidency of the EU Council in early 2022.
However, Von der Leyan has also stated that recent restrictions of movement imposed by EU states due to COVID-19 will be fully considered before the final strategy is decided.
Nevertheless, it has already been decided that Frontex, the border guard agency of the European Union, will deploy over 10,000 new guards to Schengen external borders in January 2021, as part of a bigger push to increase border security.
New Measures to Improve External Schengen Borders
In addition to deploying new border agents to the Schengen Area’s external controls and revising internal security, the European Commission has also authorized the introduction of a new electronic visa waiver system for Europe to further enhance the safety of Schengen countries.
The ETIAS visa waiver program was first approved by the Commission in 2016, and was estimated to take 5 years to fully implement.
Once the system has been implemented, expected to be by 2022, all citizens who can currently visit the Schengen Area without a visa will be required to pre-register an ETIAS application online and receive an approved travel authorization before visiting for short stays.
As every ETIAS application will be screened against European Security databases before the travel authorization can be approved, it will greatly help EU authorities to pre-identify any security or health threats to Europe before passengers are even permitted to board transportation for the Schengen Area.