In the EU, citizens can travel without border controls within the Schengen area. But obstacles to the free movement, such as maintenance of obstacles to fluid traffic flow at road crossing-points at internal borders, remain because Schengen rules are not always correctly applied by the Member States. That is why the Commission wants to verify more closely the respect of the Schengen rules.
A new proposal adopted today by the Commission seeks to strengthen the mechanism for evaluating the correct application of the Schengen rules in the Member States. It will allow the Commission to better verify the relevant legislation on the abolition of controls at internal borders and to do more effective checks within national territory.
Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, responsible for Home Affairs, highlighted that: “The Schengen area gives people the possibility to travel without border controls. But in order for the system to work, efficient application of all Schengen provisions and a high degree of mutual trust among the actors are essential. Only if the Schengen rules and regulations are applied effectively, consistently and in a transparent manner by the Member States can European citizens fully benefit from the free movement.”
A specific evaluation mechanism is necessary to ensure both mutual trust between Member States and the capacity to effectively and efficiently apply all Schengen provisions. The evaluation mechanism sets up transparent, efficient and clear rules on the method to be applied for the evaluations. In particular, the evaluation should pay attention to the respect of fundamental rights when applying the Schengen acquis. The proposal covers all parts of the Schengen cooperation, in particular external borders, visa policy, police cooperation and the Schengen Information System.
The new mechanism enhances the current system of periodic on-the-spot inspections in the Member States and introduces unannounced visits to ensure that Schengen rules are applied correctly at all times. The proposal introduces multiannual evaluation programs for the on-site visits and provides clear rules for the follow-up to the findings of the evaluations.
The revised mechanism reflects the changes in the legal situation after the integration of the Schengen rules into the framework of the EU and the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. The European Parliament and the Council will decide together on this proposal.
The area without internal borders – the Schengen area – was developed within an intergovernmental framework in the late 1980s and beginning of the 1990s by Member States willing to abolish internal border controls. Member States also wanted to implement accompanying measures to this end, such as common rules on external border controls, a common visa policy, police and judicial cooperation and the establishment of the Schengen Information System (SIS).
The Schengen area without border controls currently consists of 25 Schengen Member States i.e. Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, as well as the two associated countries, Iceland and Norway and, since December 2008, Switzerland.
The Schengen area is based on mutual trust between the Member States in their capacity fully to implement the accompanying measures allowing the lifting of internal border controls. For example, checks at external borders are carried out by Member States not only to protect their own interests but also on behalf of all other Member States to which people could travel once they have crossed the external borders of the Schengen area.
The current system of evaluation has been in place since 1999. It does not fully reflect the current legal situation and has weaknesses regarding methodology and use of risk analysis.
In 2009, the Commission had presented two proposals for the revision of the evaluation mechanism. Since then, the institutional set up has changed with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. This revised proposal thus reflects the strengthened role of the European Parliament while taking into account Member States' views on the initial proposal. The proposal only concerns verification that the Schengen acquis is correctly applied by those Member States who are already part of the Schengen zone. Verification of conditions for entering the Schengen zone remains under the full responsibility of the Council. The decision for entering the Schengen zone is taken by the Council after consultation of the European Parliament. (BBJ)