Reshaping the Schengen pact on passport-free travel across European borders has been under debate among EU ministers in Brussels. Some want a return to the old ways, in the wake of revolutions in North Africa.
Denmark is the latest, but the European home affairs Commissioner rejected this. Cecilia Malmstrom said: “Only as a very last resort, on a very clearly defined conditions, can there be a possibility to temporarily reinstate border controls, but this needs to be regulated very, very clearly.”
Denmark has unilaterally decided to man checkpoints again at its crossing points with Germany and Sweden. The Danes insist this is about crime control, and is all in line with Schengen’s principle of free movement across internal borders shared with pact partners. The centre-right minority government in Copenhagen had come under pressure from the right-wing populist Danish People’s Party.
Alarm over migrants from Tunisia and Libya also prompted a clamour among certain voices in France and Italy to rethink Schengen. Denmark’s plan to set up booths within three weeks follows French-Italian rowing about Rome providing asylum-seekers with travel permits and Paris clamping down.
Prime Minister Berlusconi made clear at a bilateral calming-of-tempers summit more than two weeks ago that both sides saw eye-to-eye on Schengen modifications. President Sarkozy suggested it was either that or say goodbye to the pact altogether.
Twenty-six years ago, Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand were the midwives of Schengen. The pact’s birth was a groundbreaker for European integration. It was signed in the town of Schengen, in Luxembourg.
At first, five member countries agreed to dismantle their customs posts and harmonise travel policies. This went into effect in 1995. Now, 22 EU states are signatories, plus non-EU Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. The EU’s UK and Ireland chose to stay out of it. Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus are still working on meeting all the criteria.
Proposals to raise barriers again at borders temporarily, in times of exceptional duress, have also curried favour in Berlin, on grounds that such protective measures make it easier to consider allowing more countries to join Schengen, since it reassures existing members about security.