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The European Commission today (26 January) said it could agree to a suspension of border-free travel in the Schengen zone of up to two years, and that nearly two thirds of migrants entering the EU in December were not eligible for asylum because they did not come from conflict zones.
The refugee crisis has meant some European countries have reintroduced border controls in the passport-free Schengen zone of 26 nations. Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria, France have introduced border controls with a six month limit. Non-EU member state Norway has introduced temporary controls. Poland is considering doing the same.
On Monday (25 January), EU home affairs ministers meeting in Amsterdam called on the Commission to extend the time limit countries are allowed to suspend Schengen. Article 26 of the Schengen treaty could see it suspended for up to two years, if public order and security concerns are judged serious enough. A decision on some kind of extension will likely be needed by May.
Today, the Commission said it did not think that the situation was serious enough to warrant the extension. But, it said it was pursuing options available to it under Article 26.
“We know that migratory flows are not going to be subsiding soon and as the weather changes are even likely to increase. So if situation does not change there could indeed be justifications under public order and security reasons to maintain internal controls as long as external borders not effectively controlled,” said spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud.
Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, President Jean-Claude Juncker’s right-hand man, made the comments about economic migrants to a Dutch newspaper.
The European Commission said the figures were from Frontex, the EU’s border agency. They were not yet public, Bertaud told reporters in Brussels.
“[The figures] showed that for December, the share of people not likely to be eligible for asylum is a lot higher than we’ve seen in rest of 2015.”
She said the figure, the latest available, was “roughly 60%”. What we are seeing in January is that this might be dropping again, Bertaud said.
Timmermans had used the figures to highlight the need for an effective, EU-wide migrant return policy. “The point First Vice-President Timmermans was trying to make is that we have to focus on return policies. Citizens’ support for genuine asylum seekers will be weakened if those who don’t have the right to international protection are also allowed to stay in Europe,” Bertaud added.
“We are determined to do whatever it takes,” said Commission Chief Spokesman Margaritis Schinas, “to make sure there is a clear differentiation between those who are protected under international law and economic migrants, which are trying to seize the opportunity to enter Europe and have to be returned.”
But the system – involving ‘hotspots’ for registration, relocation centres for approved refugees, and eventual relocation, is not working.
At yesterday’s meeting in Amsterdam, two Greek representatives said they had tried but failed to send back migrants from Morocco and Pakistan.
The executive admitted that there were difficulties in returning economic migrants. The EU has a readmission agreement with Pakistan, but there had been problems with returning Pakistan nationals from Greece since last year. There is no readmission agreement with Morocco yet, but it was being negotiated.
“We still have problems getting readmission put into practice,” Bertaud said today. “What the Commission is doing now is looking at possible incentives, both positive and negative, to make sure it is applied.”
>>Read: Whole story on EurActiv
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