The First Schengen Forum was the first step in an inclusive political debate towards building a stronger Schengen. Mutual trust is the key for a future Schengen Strategy that the Commission intends to present in mid-2021. French President Emmanuel Macron urged the European Union to reform the free movement in the EU. Following terror attacks, Emmanuel Macron asked EU to strengthen its response to illegal immigration.
The European Union Commission has held today the first-ever Schengen Forum. EU aims to build a stronger and more resilient Schengen Zone. The Schengen Forum will continue to meet regularly both at political or technical levels.
The next meeting of the Forum at political level will take place in spring 2021. It will be ahead of the presentation of the Strategy for a stronger Schengen area. Targeted consultations at technical level will also take place with representatives from the European Parliament and national authorities over the next months.
Europeans have grown to rely on Schengen. Today it is essential for our economy and for our way of life. And we all have a responsibility to make it work.
Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Today’s discussions showed a strong collective commitment to preserve and strengthen Schengen. For the last 35 years, we have built an entire Schengen architecture to better protect the area without controls at internal borders. And we must continue to build on and improve that architecture going forward.”
Border controls – Border crossing
35 years ago, 5 Member States agreed to remove border controls between themselves. Today, the Schengen area encompasses 26 European States with over 400 million citizens. It is a key policy of the European Union. It underpins the seamless functioning of the EU internal market in goods and services. The common area has allowed Europeans to organise their private and professional lives around unfettered travel around Europe.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown how much we need Schengen.
Schengen rules require an update to adapt them to evolving challenges. The pandemic, security concerns, and migration management issues have led Member States to reintroduce internal border checks. To address these challenges and build a more resilient area, the Commission announced in September this year the creation of a Schengen Forum. The first ever Forum on Schengen issues started operational cooperation and a stronger confidence in the rules.
Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “Moving freely within the EU is a daily necessity for millions of Europeans for work or school for instance. It’s also crucial for companies transporting goods around Europe. Schengen can be our lifeline when it comes to Europe’s economic recovery post-coronavirus. That is why our discussions today on building a more resilient Schengen are so important.”
Improving the mechanism to evaluate the implementation of the Schengen rules. Options for operational improvements as well as legislative changes to the mechanism were discussed for better monitoring, quicker and more efficient identification of possible deficiencies and effective follow up.
Finding a way forward on the revision of the Schengen Borders Code. Participants discussed possible ways forward to improve the current area rules, with the shared objective of overcoming existing internal border controls and ensuring that any possible reintroduction of controls at internal borders in the future is proportionate, used as a measure of last resort and for a limited period of time.
Building a more resilient Schengen area
Better managing the EU’s external borders. Participants stressed the need for quickly putting in place the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Traveller Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). These systems complement existing databases such as the Schengen Information System or the Visa Information System, which need to be used in full. The ongoing work towards ensuring that information systems for migration, border management and security become interoperable by 2023 was highlighted as crucial to give border guards the information they need to know who is crossing the EU’s borders. The deployment of the European Border and Coast Guard standing corps starting from January 2021 will also provide increased support to Member States’ border guards whenever and wherever needed.
Enhancing police cooperation and information exchange. Common and coordinated European action, for instance through increased police cooperation, better information exchange and better use of new technologies, is crucial to guarantee security within the Schengen area. Police checks can also constitute an effective alternative to the reintroduction of border controls. Measures such as joint patrols, joint investigation teams, cross-border hot pursuits or joint threat analysis were discussed as being alternatives to effectively address threats to security.
Strengthening the governance of the Schengen area. Regular meetings of the Schengen Forum, based on reports provided by the Commission, will help ensure the political involvement of all relevant players.
It has been 35 years, since a number of Member States agreed to remove border controls between themselves. From 5 countries at the time, the Schengen Area grew to 26, counting 420 million citizens. A whole generation of Europeans grew up with little memory of systematic internal border checks. Border checks have become anecdotal. Many Europeans organised their lives around the freedoms that Schengen offers.
“Thanks to Schengen, companies transport goods around our internal market with just-in-time supply chains.”
Von der Leyen adds: “Thanks to Schengen, the internal border regions, that cover 40% of EU’s territory, could open up to their neighbours.”
“Thanks to Schengen, 2 million people could find jobs as frontier workers. And most importantly, people created cross-border links and European families.”