A committee of MEPs has effectively rejected the European Commission’s proposals on the reintroduction of border controls in the Schengen area, while France and Germany have shown themselves unwilling to negotiate with parliament, writes MEP Cornelia Ernst
When the European Parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee adopted Renate Weber MEP’s report, its members effectively rejected not only the European Commission proposals on the temporary reintroduction of border controls within the Schengen area, but also the recent demands of the French and German ministers put forward in a letter to the Danish presidency, as well as those articulated by Nicolas Sarkozy last year when Italy let some thousand Tunisian refugees into France.
Formally speaking, the commission’s plan was not rejected, to be sure. In order to understand how members could reject the proposal content-wise while formally adopting it, one has to look at some details of both the proposal as well as the report adopted. Also, one needs to take a look at the relationship between what Sarkozy asked for in 2011 and the commission’s reaction, and how this relates to the recent Franco-German initiative.
After the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had been overthrown at the beginning of 2011, several thousand Tunisians took the opportunity to do what was their guaranteed human right: to leave their own country. When they arrived in southern Italy it quickly became obvious that authorities were both incapable and unwilling to deal with the new situation in a proper manner. This finally resulted in an oft-criticised move by the Italian government, namely to supply the Tunisians with some sort of permit, technically allowing them to stay in Italy. But it was clear from the beginning, that this was not really the purpose of the permits and that the Italian government rather was hoping that the Tunisians would take this opportunity to go and leave Italy for another country, or simply disappear somewhere in Europe.
Unsurprisingly, many went to France, where the government in return questioned the legality of the Italian government’s move, reintroduced border controls at the French-Italian land border near Monaco and finally put in question the feasibility of the current Schengen regime. Their demand was simply to be more easily allowed to reintroduce border controls in case of increased uncontrolled migration.
The commission then put forward their proposal. The responsible commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, obviously did not have a problem with extending the grounds allowing for internal border controls, but wanted the European Union executive, not the member states‘ governments, to have the final say in deciding whether controls were to be reintroduced. These are the two core points at the heart of the proposal. European law-making, we all know, is a game of three, and Malmström’s proposal triggered what one calls triangulation. The European Parliament, on the one hand, was by and large opposed to the idea that border controls could be reintroduced on grounds of increased migration, while the majority of member states in the Council of the EU wanted the competence to decide for themselves. So Malmström succeeded in infuriating both co-legislators.
The position of me and my group, the European UNited Left/Nordic Green Left, was and is clear and simple. We cannot accept the introduction of new grounds for allowing border controls and therefore cannot see the need to update the current rules. If anything, what is needed is better safeguards to prevent member states from arbitrarily controlling their borders, as the case of Denmark showed in 2011.
Weber, in her report, went on to significantly amend the two core points of the proposal. For a member state to be allowed to reintroduce border controls, there needs to be a threat to internal security. The report now explicitly states that the crossing of borders by a large number of third-country nationals cannot per se be considered as a threat to internal security. So in this regard, the report effectively changes nothing with regard to the rules that are currently in force. The second major amendment of the Weber report concerns the question of who has the last say when it comes to the reintroduction of border controls. The text now approved by the LIBE committee lets the council decide in general and the member state concerned in cases of urgency. This is very close to what is now in force. That is why I say the Weber report effectively rebuts Malmström’s proposal.
And what about the French and German ministers, Friedrich and Guéant? Their letter was nothing new, really, just a repetition of what Sarkozy asked for last year – unsuccessfully one must add. If anything, their letter lowers the chances of any changes to the Schengen rules in the near future. After all, parliament and council have to find a compromise or there will be no new regulation. The two ministers have nothing but shown that they do not even want to negotiate with parliament.
Cornelia Ernst MEP is a member of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left in the European Parliament