How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

Member comments

  1. maybe the duty of european countries is be to respect the geneva convention (for real) and take care of the refugees their own actions create

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Norway’s Defence Minister resigns over affair with young woman

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told reporters that he wished to find a new defence minister as soon as possible.

Norway's Defence Minister resigns over affair with young woman

Norway’s government announced Saturday that defence minister Odd Roger Enoksen was resigning following revelations that he had a years-long affair with a much younger woman.

“It is a necessary decision, after what has surfaced in this matter,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told a press conference where he confirmed that he had accepted Enoksen’s resignation.

“I have made several bad choices and judgements, and will give an unreserved apology for the fact that my actions have made life more difficult for others,” Enoksen told news agency NTB earlier on Saturday.

READ ALSO: Norwegian minister resigns over commuter housing scandal

Enoksen started the affair in 2005 when his partner was still an 18-year-old high school student, according to daily VG.

Her class went on a school trip to Norway’s parliament in the capital Oslo and met the Centre Party politician, who was 50 at the time.

After the school trip she and Enoksen started what would become a very close and sexual relationship, VG wrote.

The woman, now in her 30s, detailed their relationship to the newspaper, saying she felt starstruck by Enoksen due to her interest in politics and that he “used his power and position to get what he wanted”.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Norway’s border with Russia

According to the woman, they met at least 12 times in Enoksen’s office between late 2006 and 2007 while he was the energy minister, with some of the meetings involving “sexual acts”.

While Enoksen confirmed to VG that she had visited him in his office and said there might have been some talk of a lewd nature, he denied there was any physical aspect.

He instead claimed they did not become intimate until after he left the government in 2007, and stressed that the relationship was not one “where I was in a position of power over her”.

Prime Minister Store told reporters that Enoksen had not informed him about the affair before he was appointed defence minister following last year’s general election, adding the information would have led to a “different conclusion”.

Store added that he wished to find a new defence minister as soon as possible.