Arab refugee influx causes Europe to rethink its open borders
France wants to overhaul the Schengen agreement, which allows free movement across European borders. A key issue: including large groups of immigrants among the potential 'threats to public order' that allow temporary internal border controls.
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Now their arrival has led to proposals for the overhaul of the so-called Schengen agreement, a system that allows the citizens of 25 European states – and their visitors – to cross borders without any controls.
EU Justice and Home Affairs ministers meeting in Brussels today discussed how to interpret the wording of the agreement that allows member states to temporarily reinstate internal border controls within the Schengen area where and when “a threat to public order” warrants.
In the past, such measures were taken with the permission of the EU Commission in Brussels to prevent, for instance, violent soccer hooligans from traveling to international matches. But some countries, led by France, argue that member states should be entitled to regard – and treat – a larger group of immigrants trying to cross internal borders as a threat to public order. A majority of the ministers attending followed that argument.
The first country to act – even before any changes to the Schengen system had been agreed to – was Denmark. Within two weeks, the country would reintroduce document checks at the borders to Germany and Sweden, the Danish government announced yesterday.
Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen who is heading a minority government, depends on the support of the populist anti-immigration Danish People’s Party. DVP leader Pia Kjærsgaard called the decision “a victory of reason.” In the past few weeks, Mrs. Kjærsgaard had repeatedly argued the need to keep “criminals from Eastern Europe and illegal economic migrants” from entering Denmark.
The Danish move prompted strong reactions in Europe. Germany’s Justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, said the freedom of movement in the Schengen area was an invaluable achievement for millions of Europeans. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, French member of the European Parliament, asked the Danes to make a decision: “Either they accept the rules or they leave the Schengen agreement. And then they can apply for visa when traveling in Europe. One for each country.”