French President Emmanuel Macron and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz are among the leading voices calling for an overhaul of the way the Schengen Area manages its borders.
Recent events have caused a number of EU leaders to demand tighter security measures at the region’s external borders and make reforms to the way the Schengen Area works with regards to migration, asylum seekers, and internal security.
Macron and Kurz recently met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and President of the European Council Charles Michel in a conference to discuss the matter. Macron also intends to submit a proposal to the European Council in December.
It is not yet known how the suggested reforms would affect plans to introduce the ETIAS visa waiver program in late 2022.
How would Schengen border reforms work?
After recent terror attacks in France and Austria, President Macron and Chancellor Kurz have demanded that border controls be tightened for the Schengen Area.
Currently, the Schengen Area is an open-borders region of Europe. The 26 member states perform security checks on travellers arriving from third countries, but have officially abolished checks at their mutual borders.
The proposed reforms are thought to be focused on improving the region’s external borders. However, Mr Macron has said that France will cease to support the right of free movement within the Schengen Area unless external security measures are sufficiently strengthened to prevent further incidents.
The European Commission is strongly opposed to any suggestion of reestablishing internal border controls within the Schengen Area, since it was founded on the principle of free movement.
Macron’s demands for Schengen overhaul
French President Emmanuel Macron has been one of the loudest voices calling for a “refoundation” of the Schengen Area. France’s leader has pointed to weaknesses in border control on the fringes of the EU, in countries such as Spain and Italy, where thousands of migrants are able to enter the Schengen Area each year.
At a recent conference with Sebastian Kurz (Austria), Angela Merkel (Germany), Mark Rutte (the Netherlands), Charles Michel (President of the European Council), and Ursula von der Leyen (President of the European Commission), Macron drew a connection between the failure of security at external borders and the lack of internal border controls enabling extremists to operate freely in Europe, saying:
“This promise of freedom of movement without internal borders required another promise of protection and security at our external borders and we did not sufficiently deliver on the second promise.”
He went on to say that France would not continue to support freedom of movement within Schengen if these issues were not addressed.
Key points in the proposed Schengen reform
Macron outlined a number of key points to reform the Schengen Area:
- Strengthen the security of the external borders
- Improve the systems used to assess how well Schengen is functioning
- Update how the Schengen Area is governed
The French President suggested the idea of an internal security council body to oversee the monitoring of the relevant issues.
Combating online hate speech
One key issue raised by Macron, Kurz, and Merkel was that of stopping online hate speech that encourages extremism.
Issues of security in the modern era include adapting to technology and the availability of the internet.
Macron has called for extremist content to be removed from the internet within an hour.
President of the European Council Charles Michel stated that initiatives have already been taken over the past few years and that authorities are already able to remove terrorist content very quickly.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen also stated the importance of speed in removing hateful content and expressed hope that by the end of 2020, the new proposals to deal with this would be adopted and implemented.
The European Commission’s response
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has previously said that a new strategy for Schengen would be devised.
At the recent conference, she reiterated this sentiment, saying that in the meeting of the European Commission on 9th December 2020, a new program for preventing terrorism in Europe would be presented.
The new program would be based on 3 areas of work:
- Prevention (by protecting the borders)
- Launching a European program for integration and inclusion
This would include involving police, teachers, social workers, and others involved in working with young people to help steer them away from extremism.
Von der Leyen also announced a meeting in the Schengen Forum and the presentation of a new Schengen program in May 2021 to address the following issues:
- Strengthening EUROPOL and EURODAC
- Improving cooperation between police organisations
- Fix flaw in the Schengen information system
Current plans to strengthen Schengen security
There are already a number of measures in the works to improve border security at the edges of the Schengen Area.
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, better known as Frontex, will grow to a 10,000-strong force, with more guards being deployed to the external borders.
As referenced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the conference with Macron et. al., from late 2022, a new travel authorisation system for the Schengen member states will be launched.
This will mean that all third-country nationals who do not require a visa must register their details before travelling to the Schengen Area by completing an online ETIAS application.
ETIAS will allow European authorities to keep track of who is entering and leaving the region as well as pre-screening them for security risks. This will improve safety for residents and visitors alike.
Those who do not meet the ETIAS requirements must obtain a Schengen visa instead, which also involves a screening process during the in-person application.