The Europe of free movement eternalizes border controls | International

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It has been almost nine years since the refugee crisis tested the seams of the Schengen area, which allows freedom of movement for citizens within the EU and four other states. As the waves of refugees caused by the Syrian conflict arrived, several countries in central and northern Europe began to notify Brussels that they were reintroducing border control or, at least, retaining the right to do so: Germany, Austria, Hungary , Sweden, Denmark... Since then, many of these countries renew the situation every six months, the maximum time allowed by regulation. Over the years, other causes have been added to massive migratory movements: terrorist threats, organized crime, smuggling, the pandemic... But, as has been seen this week with the friction between Warsaw and Berlin or the previous one between Vienna and Rome, the Migration and human trafficking continue to play a prominent role in the revitalization of border controls.

Between 2006 and until mid-2015, exceptions to Schengen had been used very rarely: 36 times and for very limited periods of time, a few days for the organization of an event, a high-level visit (that of the president of the United United States, for example) or the holding of a leaders' summit. In the nine years since, the number has multiplied by nine: 336.

“Since 2015, the Schengen area has been under constant pressure and today we face a different reality than when it was created. “The instability in the European neighborhood and in more distant regions, the consequences of the extremely exceptional situation of the 2015 refugee crisis, the Covid-19 crisis and the threat of terrorism require reflection and monitoring,” a report noted. of 2020 evaluation prepared by the European Commission. A year later, Europe discovered a new variant of these population movements: the instrumentalization of migrants as a hybrid threat that the autocratic regime of Belarusian Aleksandr Lukashenko began to use in 2021.

The argument of movements to reintroduce controls is not always put forward, nor is an extension for months announced. Spain, for example, has warned Brussels that from last Thursday until next Saturday there will be border controls at several airports, ports and at land borders. Reason? Next week's EU leaders' summit in Grenada. Portugal did the same last July for Pope Francis' visit for World Youth Day.

Accusations between neighbors

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When a country recovers border controls - notification to Brussels does not have to mean that they are deployed - it is easy for there to be some exchange of accusations between neighbors. Germany has announced this week that it is going to carry out road controls to confront the migratory wave that arrives through the more than 1,000 kilometers of border it shares with Poland and the Czech Republic, also against the background of the visa sale scandal. that affects the Polish Government.

Warsaw in turn announced that it would strengthen controls on vehicles that it may consider suspected of transporting migrants on the border with Slovakia. Days before, the friction came between Italy and Austria due to the controls of the latter country at the Brenner border crossing. It was the Italian deputy prime minister and ultra leader, Mateo Salvini, who threatened Vienna with taking it to the European courts.

However, sometimes these controls do not have to imply a suspension of Schengen regulation. Berlin has explained that its announcement this week does not represent an exception to the regulation of the treaty - although it has maintained controls with Austria since 2015 - and this has been confirmed by the European Commission. “It is a type of alternative measure that we consider useful. The Commission has promoted the use of these temporary alternative measures since 2017,” declared a community spokesperson.

The Schengen area is, on paper, an area of ​​free movement of people made up of 27 States that do not exactly coincide with the members of the EU. Ireland, for example, is not part of it. And Romania and Bulgaria are waiting to receive the approval of the rest of the partners, something that at the end of last year aroused the opposition of the Netherlands and Austria. Both countries, however, did give their approval to Croatia, the last country to join, on January 1. Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein are the Schengen States that are not part of the community club.

To recover border controls, the rule provides for three situations. The most used is the one regulated by articles 25 and 26 for “foreseeable” cases, so the State that resorts to it must inform the Commission four weeks in advance. It is the one that Spain has used to hold the summit, because it is expressly designed for that. It can be extended for 30 days and can be renewed for up to six months. There are two others: the one that requires immediate action in response to a threat, for example, a terrorist one. The last would be the one that puts the entire Schengen area at risk due to lack of control at the external borders.

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