EU to open talks on tighter border rules in the Schengen area
EU lawmakers will start negotiations on revisions to the Schengen code in the coming days, in a bid to harmonise rules on border controls or lifting them, in cases such as a health crisis or other kind of threats.
The legislation, which was originally proposed by the European Commission in December 2021, was adopted by MEPs on the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee on Wednesday (20 September) and proposes to clarify rules on when borders can be tightened or not, with targeted solutions for specific kinds of threat cases.
According to the approved text, situations that can trigger an increase of border controls are “large-scale public cross-border health emergencies, allowing temporary restrictions on entering the Schengen area”. However, EU citizens, long-term residents and asylum seekers would be exempted from the measure.
The ‘irregular’ cases
The legislation also promotes cross-border police cooperation and foresees the possibility of returning ‘irregular’ third-country nationals to other EU countries if there is enough evidence that the individual passed through another EU country before the joint patrols.
“Where third-country nationals with irregular status are apprehended during joint patrols and there is evidence they have arrived directly from another EU country, these people may be transferred to that country if it participates in joint patrols,” stated a Parliament press release.
EU lawmakers specified the exemption from such rules in several categories, such as unaccompanied minors.
This part of the proposal is in line with what EU ministers and the Commission support in the migration and asylum pact, which is also under discussion. It would also maintain the so-called ‘Dublin principle’, under which a third country national that seeks international protection needs to apply for asylum in the first place they arrive.
EU to start talks on migration reform laws
Members of the European Parliament of the civil liberties committee adopted their position on key migration files on Tuesday (28 March), inaugurating the beginning of inter-institutional negotiations between the European Parliament and EU ministers.
In the Schengen code revision, there is a distinction between ‘irregular migrants’ and ‘asylum seekers’ despite the fact that according to international law, any third-country national can apply for international protection on EU soil.
The eight-month and two-year ‘cases’
According to the draft proposal, if there are justified reasons for an “identified and immediate” threat of terrorism, the maximum time for tightening the borders is eight months. However, if the threat is still present, EU government ministers can authorise an extension.
Another measure proposed is to tighten controls in some EU countries “when the Commission receives notifications about a particularly serious threat affecting a majority of countries simultaneously, for a period of up to two years”, the press release explains.
“Protecting the Schengen free movement area and what it represents for 450 million Europeans is at the heart of this report. The negotiations have been difficult, but I am delighted we have managed to safeguard the essence of one of the European Union’s greatest achievements,” said Sylvie Guillaume, the French socialist MEP who is leading Parliament’s negotiations on the file.
MEPs also made clear that the law does not cover the ‘instrumentalisation of migration’, an expression used to refer to third countries that “facilitate” or “encourage” migrants to go to the EU, a tactic used by Russia and Belarus.
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Russia organises flights from the Middle East to Moscow, giving migrants access to the Belarusian and then EU borders, ministers from the Baltic region said during a hearing with MEPs on Monday (4 September).
Instrumentalisation regulation vs international law
The Commission proposed the instrumentalisation regulation in December 2021, a law that would enable member states, in some circumstances, to apply derogations to the international law on protection when a third country national enters EU soil.
According to international law, any third-country national can apply for asylum when arriving in an EU states.
As a result, the legislation was criticised by NGOs as a way to bypass human rights guarantees. However, the law is still in an early stage and is unlikely to be approved before the next European elections in June 2024.
In the meantime, some member states that are geographically near Russia and Belarus – have approved rules similar to the instrumentalisation regulation. In April, Lithuania approved a law that enables border guards to decide who can apply for asylum when crossing the border.
Lithuania legalises migrant pushbacks
The Lithuanian parliament Seimas adopted a law on Tuesday (25 April) legalising the turning away of irregular migrants at the border under a state-level extreme situation regime or a state of emergency.
The proposal to amend the Schengen rules, however, could be approved by the end of the legislative mandate.
The proposal could now enter negotiations in the next 48 hours. If so, the text will be then ‘endorsed’ at the Parliament’s next plenary session in early October. If there is an objection by MEPs in the next two days, then negotiations will start following the vote in October