Member states trying to downgrade Schengen
by Rebecca Harms
The EU's border-free system has been an overwhelming success, but centre-right politicians and certain member states continue to attack it – claims MEP
Schengen is under fire. The European Union's border-free system, which has been an overwhelming success and one of the major achievements of the EU, has come under increased pressure from centre-right politicians and member states over the last year. The latest and most far-reaching development to this end occurred on Thursday, as European home affairs ministers decided their position on two key legislative proposals concerning the Schengen system.
Ministers agreed positions on the two files, which would undermine the essence of Schengen by making the reimposition of border controls and evaluation of Schengen a national - rather than EU-level - competence. As if this was not enough, they also endorsed controversial proposals to allow the exclusion of member states from Schengen based on a decision of the other members. To rub salt into the wounds, ministers decided to change the legal base of the proposals on the evaluation of Schengen - to exclude the European Parliament from the decision-making process. This latter decision, aimed at stripping the EP of its powers as co-legislator, is not only scandalous; it is also of dubious legality.
The Schengen system is transnational in its conception and purpose. It is therefore both logical and essential that any decision to temporarily reintroduce border controls be subject to EU-level approval and not left up to the narrow-minded, national whims of individual member states. The same is true of the evaluation of how the system is applied. The whole debate on the reimposition of border controls was a populist political ploy by former French president Nicholas Sarkozy, as part of his desperate attempt to cling to power last year. Regrettably, despite Sarkozy's electoral defeat, his populist torch has been taken over by Germany and others in the European Council.
The European Commission had presented proposals aimed at ensuring decisions on the reintroduction of border controls are taken at EU-level, as is logical. Regrettably, home affairs ministers decided to overturn these proposals. They also overturned a separate proposal from the commission to ensure that the evaluation of the application of Schengen in its member countries is carried out at supranational-level. To round off their hatchet job, ministers supported proposals to suspend countries from the border-free system based on the will of neighbouring Schengen members and a council decision. This is no more than knee-jerk populism. A common border system implies pooling efforts to manage external borders. Penalising countries that are not fulfilling their obligations under Schengen should be a last resort and it is a decision that should be taken by the commission - and not left to national rivalries.
Next week, the EP Civil Liberties Committee will vote to set out its position on these two files, which are crucial to the very essence of Schengen. The Greens will continue to push to ensure that the commission's proposals win out. The council decision to change the legal base for the rules on the evaluation of Schengen, with a view to excluding the EP from the legislative process, is of fundamental concern. Not only is it completely unacceptable to change the rules of the game after it has already kicked off - but this decision is inconsistent with the treaties and a direct assault on the democratic power of the EP. We will lead the charge in challenging this and believe the parliament should bring a case to the European Court of Justice, if necessary. The EP, as the democratically elected check on the council, cannot stand idly by and let the populist cartel undermine this core EU policy.
Rebecca Harms MEP is co-president of the Greens/European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament
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