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On the future of #Schengen

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Several options and scenarios are currently being explored by the EU member states in order to (re)-examine the future of Schengen, writes Solon Ardittis.

These include: A status-quo, an option which is still favoured, at least publicly, by large member states such as France, Germany and Italy

A two-year Schengen suspension throughout the current border-free area (after six Schengen member states had already reinstated temporary border checks in 2015 and early 2016)

The exclusion from Schengen of selected member states, most notably Greece.

The establishment, as proposed by the Dutch authorities, of a mini-Schengen bloc consisting of Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and possibly France (a proposal which, to date, has been opposed by Belgium, France and Germany).  To this list one should add Romania’s request to actually join the Schengen area in exchange of more solidarity towards the newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers, and Bulgaria’s and Croatia’s pending Schengen applications.

So, Schengen appears to be key to the future of EU immigration policy and, some would submit, to the future of the Union as a political project overall. Therefore, does any of the above scenarios have the potential to reduce irregular migration and terrorist threats in the foreseeable future? And while the latest biannual report on the functioning of the Schengen area, published in December 2015, has highlighted the staggering increase in the number of irregular border crossings detected in 2015 (1,553,614 compared with 813,044 during the full 2009-2014 period), is the reintroduction of internal borders within the current Schengen area such a potent response to the expanding migrant and terror crises in Europe?

According to those advocating a Schengen suspension, the massive arrivals at the EU’s external borders in 2015 and in the beginning of 2016 have resulted in significant secondary movements within the Schengen area, due largely to the failure of member states of first entry to register the applicants in line with the Dublin norms. The suggestion, therefore, is that the closure of internal borders would at least reduce the levels of such secondary movements in a number of member states in the future.

In addition to such an assumption having never been supported by any convincing evidence, it is also largely discounting the principle of intra-EU solidarity enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

The position of Greece is a case in point. The draft Schengen Evaluation Report that was issued last week concluded that Greece had seriously neglected its obligations by not identifying and registering irregular migrants effectively and by not checking travel documents systematically and against security databases such as SIS, Interpol and national systems. While these conclusions as such cannot be disputed, what most commentators reacting to this report have largely overlooked is the fact that, despite accounting for only 2% of the EU’s population, 3% of the EU’s territory and less than 1.5% of the EU’s GDP, Greece received in 2015 more than 80% of the over one million irregular migrants and asylum seekers who entered the EU by sea and land.

This is in addition to the fact that, as of 18 January 2016, only 82 migrants out of the 66,400 planned had been relocated from Greece under the EU Relocation Plan, and that many of the Frontex staff, boats and fingerprinting machines that had been promised to Greece to better police its borders have yet to arrive.

The case of Greece is largely emblematic of the current dichotomy between the EU’s growing initiatives in favour of a Union’s strategy in the field of immigration and security and the member states’ thriving distrust of the very concept of power and responsibility sharing in this sector.  A case in point is the proposed revision of the Frontex’s mandate, most notably the proposed establishment of a European Border and Coast Guard.

While such initiatives have been long-awaited with a view to re-establishing some coherence in the EU’s policy approach to border management and security, and therefore to strengthening the Schengen area, the adoption of the new Frontex Regulation continues to face resistance from a number of member states that are simply not prepared to endorse such a transfer of sovereignty in such a sensitive area as border controls.

Similarly, the proposed amendment of the Schengen Border Code, which will ensure that travel documents of persons enjoying the right of free movement under Union law are checked systematically for internal security and public policy reasons against relevant databases, is still pending and exerting little pressure on the Schengen opponents’ resolution.

The EU has further been active in addressing the poor level of removals of irregular migrants ordered to leave the EU (the current rate is less than 40% on average), by tabling an EU action plan on return in September 2015 and by setting up a Frontex Return Office that will enable the Agency to scale up its assistance to the member states in this area (albeit with an allocated budget of only €15 million in 2016). Again, the effect of this initiative on the position of the anti-Schengen member states has been largely unobtrusive.

The issue of the financial implications of non-Schengen also appear to have been underestimated or ignored: a report issued by the French Prime Minister’s office earlier this week, estimated that the reintroduction of internal border controls within the EU would cost €110 billion per year.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, if Schengen were to be abolished, would the Schengen Information System (SIS), which plays a vital role as a platform for exchanging information on terrorist and serious crime threats among member states have to follow suit? Such an implication would clearly expose the limitations of any initiative favouring a suspension or abolition of the Schengen system.

There is little doubt that the EU’s response to the migrant crisis to date has been largely piecemeal and reactive, and that a comprehensive and sustainable EU vision on the future of immigration and border management remains to be written. However, as the latest ‘State of Play’ on the European Agenda on Migration, published in January 2016, has re-emphasised, ‘no member state can effectively address migration alone. It is clear that we need a new, more European approach. This requires using all policies and tools at our disposal – combining internal and external policies to best effect.

All actors: member states, EU institutions, international organizations, civil society, local authorities and third countries need to work together to make a common European migration policy a reality’.

Solon Ardittis is director of Eurasylum, a European research and consulting organisation specialising in migration and asylum policy on behalf of national public authorities and EU institutions. He is also co-editor of Migration Policy Practice, a bimonthly journal published jointly with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). 

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Italian MEP Vincenzo Sofo joins the ECR Group

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament has decided to take on Italian MEP Vincenzo Sofo as a new member.

Mr Sofo was elected to the European Parliament in 2019. He was one of the three Italian candidates suspended pending the exit of the British Members. On February 1st 2020, Mr Sofo officially took his European Parliament seat. The ECR Group now holds 63 seats in the European Parliament.

After the meeting, ECR Co-Chairman Raffaele Fitto said: “I’d like to welcome Mr Sofo to our Group. He is a trained and competent colleague who has made a political choice consistent with his political path. We are sure that Mr Sofo MEP will be able to make a decisive contribution to the work of our Group, and to our alternative vision of the future of Europe, that is, a community of homelands and nations that cooperate in respect of our different identities and peculiarities.”

ECR Co-Chairman Ryszard Legutko said: “The decision of Mr Sofo shows that our political project, together with the strength of our ideas and our values, is credible and attractive, and from today even stronger and more able to give concrete answers to our citizens in terms of well-being, wealth and security.”

Following the decision, Sofo said: “The European Union is going through one of the most difficult periods in its history, not only from an economic point of view but also from a social and cultural point of view. Surely, it must be profoundly changed to be preserved. Considering the political forces grouped in the European Conservatives and Reformists, they are the ones most able to carry out this task.

“The Conference on the Future of Europe will be a crucial appointment for our Continent and the work that conservative forces will be able to do to correct the mistakes of the European project will be fundamental to straightening its path by strengthening our Nation states and values that have forged its spirit.”

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EU imposes sanctions on Russians linked to Navalny poisoning and detention

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Council today(2 March) decided to impose restrictive measures on four Russian individuals responsible for serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as widespread and systematic repression of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and freedom of opinion and expression in Russia.

Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Igor Krasnov, the Prosecutor-General, Viktor Zolotov, head of the National Guard, and Alexander Kalashnikov, head of the Federal Prison Service have been listed over their roles in the arbitrary arrest, prosecution and sentencing of Alexei Navalny, as well as the repression of peaceful protests in connection with his unlawful treatment.

This is the first time that the EU imposes sanctions in the framework of the new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime which was established on 7 December 2020. The sanctions regime enables the EU to target those responsible for acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations or abuses such as torture, slavery, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests or detentions.

The restrictive measures that entered into force today in follow up to discussions by the Foreign Affairs Council on 22 February 2021 consist of a travel ban and asset freeze. In addition, persons and entities in the EU are forbidden from making funds available to those listed, either directly or indirectly.

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Nine EU-supported films compete in the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The 71st Berlin International Film Festival began on 1 March, this year in its digital edition due to the coronavirus pandemicnine EU-supported films and series, three of which are competing for the highest prize, the Golden Bear: Memory Box by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Nebenan (Next Door) by Daniel Brühl, and Természetes fény (Natural Light) by Dénes Nagy. The EU supported the development and co-production of these nine titles with an investment of over €750 000 that was awarded through the Creative Europe MEDIA programme. Targeted to film professionals and media, the Berlinale film festival is hosting the European Film Market, where the Creative Europe MEDIA programme is active with a virtual stand as well as with the European Film Forum. The Forum that will take place online on 2 March will gather various professionals from the industry to discuss the future perspectives for the audiovisual sector in Europe. The Berlinale will run until 5 March, when the winning films will be announced. The second round of this year's festival, ‘The Summer Special', will take place in June 2021 and will open the films to the public and host the official Award Ceremony. More information is available here.

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