Internal Schengen border controls will be extended for six months, the European Commission announced on Wednesday.
The Schengen Area provides passport-free travel amongst 26 European countries and was described by the commission as “one of the major achievements of European integration.”
Border controls between countries signed up to the agreement are not normally permitted to reinstate them, but are allowed to if “control of an external border is no longer ensured due to exceptional circumstances“. Several members have elected to do so because of the record number of migrants moving across Europe.
Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway have implemented border checks, and the commission recommended that they retain border checks.
The commission cited the failure to secure Greek borders as the reasoning for the return of border controls.
However, with the EU-Turkey deal sending migrants back across the Aegean, as well as a reduction in the overall number of migrants, the Schengen area looks on track to return to normal.
“Unified” border force for Schengen countries?
Despite progress made in Greece, officials warned of “secondary movement” – that is, migrants entering a different Schengen county from the one they entered – remains a legitimate concern. “There is still is considerable migratory pressure at our external border, and large numbers of migrants present in Greece,” said First Vice-President Frans Timmermans.
The Schengen Agreement is considered a cornerstone of the European Union, allowing the free movement of people from Lisbon to Tallinn. Over 1.7 million workers cross EU borders everyday without border checks.
The commission also found the the key to the Schengen Area remaining a viable institution is better protection of external borders, noting that Greece in particular had not been successful in handling the migrant influx across the Mediterranean. It also stated that this responsibility falls on the European Union as a whole, and reiterated its desire for a unified “European Border and Coast Guard” proposed in December last year.