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Coronavirus: no ''mini-Schengens", warns EU Commission VP

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Coronavirus: no ''mini-Schengens", warns EU Commission VP
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Amid the on-going coronavirus pandemic, in this episode of The Global Conversation, Euronews' Efi Koutsokosta speaks to European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas about the future of Europe's border-free travel Schengen zone after the unprecedented move by EU member-states in March to seal borders. They also cover the European Commission's plans for economic recovery post COVID-19, as well as the thorny issue of EU migration and asylum and so-called burden-sharing.

No "mini-Schengens"

Efi Koutsokosta, Euronews

"We see the member states are gradually opening borders and easing restrictive measures. We know that the EU Commission has made some precise recommendations but it’s up to the member states to decide how they will do it.... so how safe is it to open economies, to open the borders in the Schengen Area, and of course, during the tourist period?"

Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice President

“You are right in saying that we have not been, in our tourist and travel recommendations, over prescriptive. We do not think that this is the Commission's job to dictate from Brussels, one size fits all approach, give a date that suits everybody. When it comes to opening up the tourism and travel and hospitality areas, there is no room for discrimination and every measure taken has to be based on our guidelines and has to be non-discriminatory in nature. Let me give you an example on borders, for example. There is no way that returning to Schengen normality from the existing restrictions in our internal borders should be replaced by some sort of regional mini-Schengens that fragment our single market and discriminate against the non-participating member states. This is not possible. On the contrary, it is possible, as recommended by the Commission, that regions and member states that have similar epidemiological records, can indeed use this intermediary phase of starting lifting internal border restrictions in an orderly and non-discriminatory way—and above all—a safe way, both for travellers and for tourists.”

There is no way that returning to Schengen normality from the existing restrictions in our internal borders should be replaced by some sort of regional mini-Schengens
Margaritis Schinas
European Commission Vice President

The recovery plan: "It will have to be big"

Efi Koutsokosta, Euronews

"However, the crisis hit the continent in an unequal way, which means that now when it comes to the Recovery Fund, we see that the richest countries of the north want to focus on loans, whereas the poorest countries of the south—the hardest-hit countries by the pandemic—want to focus on grants. But, if finally, the rich countries insist on loans, what kind of solidarity are we talking about?"

Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice President

"We are now at a very crucial stage where the Commission in the next 10 days will finalise what we think is the best way to address this lack of equilibrium, which is the recovery initiative. And the recovery initiative would have certain characteristics designed precisely to address the issues, the shortcomings, that you mentioned. First, size. It will have to be big. Second, it has to be targeted to these member states and these sectors of the economy that suffered the most.

"It's not the right time to spray money around many objectives. And third, it has to have the right mixture of grants and loans, especially because it would be totally unfair for the countries of the south to be forced to increase their debt."

EU Pact for Migration and Asylum

Efi Koutsokosta, Euronews

"Let's move on to another big priority, at least previously, which is migration. And now it seems that it's not so much on top of the agenda, but we know that you are preparing a new migration pact. When should we expect this?"

Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice President

“I think that once we clear the table with all pandemic-related initiatives like the recovery plan, then the next big issue would be the EU Pact for Migration and Asylum. At that time, that would allow the German presidency to start to work as early as possible."

Efi Koutsokosta, Euronews

"So, should we expect it in June before the German presidency?"

Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice President

“Yes. I think this is a reasonable expectation, because as you say, the German Presidency starts on the 1st July and I would very much like to have the German presidency find this proposal on their table at an early stage."

We have to create the conditions for these countries to offer opportunities to their citizens... instead of forcing them to put their lives in the hands of the smugglers in the Mediterranean.
Margaritis Schinas
European Commission Vice President

"We can call it the new Dublin."

Efi Koutsokosta, Euronews

"What will this proposal include?

Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice President

“We imagine this pact as a three storey building, with a first floor being a very strong external dimension that would allow Europe to build robust relations with countries of origin and transit that are crucial in managing migratory flows. We have to create the conditions for these countries to offer opportunities to their citizens instead of — keeping them there — instead of forcing them to put their lives in the hands of the smugglers in the Mediterranean. The second floor of the building would be a common and robust management of our external borders, as we saw recently in Evros. There is the possibility for Europeans and Frontex to mobilise very quickly to help guard our external borders, especially in times of crisis. And we're hopeful that this will be a central feature of the pact. And the third, and probably the most important floor, would be of course, solidarity and burden sharing. We can call it the new Dublin."

"Europe cannot fail twice on such an important issue."

Efi Koutsokosta, Euronews

"But how can you oblige the member states that already refused receiving and sharing the burden of welcoming refugees? How can you convince them this time?"

Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice President

First of all, if you would allow me not to use oblige. I have been working many years in European politics and I always prefer the term convince rather than oblige. You are right. When this was tried in 2016, Europe was not successful. This time, I think probably we have a better chance because the first and the second floor of the building are more developed. You can claim for solidarity if you can convince that the responsibility element is there, so that you have a stronger external dimension that you can control your borders. So you are entitled to ask for solidarity. I have the feeling that in 2016, the first two floors have not been fully developed. So, Europe cannot fail twice on such an important issue.

"I think there is more ground for optimism this time."

Efi Koutsokosta, Euronews

Are you going to use the EU budget or the cohesion funds in order to convince the member states that have so far refused to do it?

Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice President

"Well, this is a separate discussion. By experience I do not think that this cross-fertilisation of difficult files helps. And again, I think that we are better prepared this time. It's not going to be easy, but I think there is more ground for optimism this time."