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Home » Home Affairs, Policy

Borders, not Barriers

Submitted by on 27 Mar 2013 – 13:24

By Stefano Manservisi, Director General, DG HOME Affairs, European Commission

The movement of persons without control at the internal borders is one of the most tangible achievements of European integration. An area without internal border controls is central to the success of the Single Market and of Europe’s continued efforts to boost economic growth, people to people contacts and cultural exchange. The EU’s border management policy was established to safeguard this historic achievement on Europe’s soil.

The Commission’s legislative proposals aimed at strengthening the Schengen governance are crucial in this regard, because they aim at improving substantially the overall functioning and sustainability of the Schengen area.

The current Schengen evaluation mechanism, which was set up when the Schengen area encompassed only six Member States who co-operated entirely on an inter-governmental basis, is no longer adequate to evaluate Member States’ performance in the implementation of the Schengen acquis. Hence, a new mechanism needs to be created, capable of identifying deficiencies at an early stage and ensuring an effective remedy in an area of 26 participating countries, where the core elements are governed by EU rules.

The revised mechanism proposed would serve this purpose, while at the same time granting more transparency and collective ownership to the process. We are now at the final stage of the negotiations and I trust that it will be possible to reach an agreement.

Coming back to the EU external borders, in a nutshell, border management must meet a few indispensable and fully compatible objectives: ensure smooth and fast border crossings for the vast majority of travellers who meet the conditions of entry into the EU; make sure that those who do not fulfil these conditions are refused entry while allowing access to international protection for those in need of it; treat each individual with full respect of fundamental rights and human dignity.

It is important to underline also that, in the Schengen area, each Member State manages its external borders not only to control access to its own territory but also to the Schengen area as a whole. Thus, each Member State acts in the interest of all the others and carries out a service on behalf of the EU. Solidarity, responsibility and trust are therefore essential elements of border management.

Moreover, we have seen that individual Member States need support. This was the case recently for Greece at its border with Turkey and for Italy during the Arab Spring. The EU has provided support and assistance – albeit not unlimited, especially at a time of financial constraints – via EU funding notably through the External Borders Fund and the EU Agencies such as Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) or, on a more ad-hoc basis, EUROPOL.

The key issue that we face today is: how can the EU maintain a high level of security while remaining open for movements of people?

One of the paths the EU is following is to facilitate the mobility of people by committing to a serious policy of visa liberalisation and visa liberalisation dialogues with third countries.

These processes are not always perfectly smooth. For instance, the wave of visa liberalisation for the Western Balkans led to a surge in unfounded asylum applications. It was then necessary for the EU to put in place a post-visa liberalisation monitoring mechanism, which has proved to be an adept instrument in monitoring progress in border management in the visa-free states, while respecting travellers’ fundamental rights.

The EU has recently launched or will soon launch visa dialogues with Ukraine, Moldova, Kosovo*, Georgia, Russia and Turkey. Integrated border management is an important element of these dialogues, including the demarcation of borders with neighbouring states where it has not yet been done; rolling out the access model underpinning the EU’s Integrated Border Management concept; and improving inter-agency co-operation between the police, customs and other authorities.

Another path to facilitating travel and enhancing security is to launch innovative projects, such as the “Smart Borders package”, adopted last February, that rely on new, more effective technologies and higher standards. Travel flows at the external borders have been increasing and will continue to do so in the future. Several Member States experience problems already now in managing their ever increasing travel flows efficiently and cost-effectively especially at their busiest border crossing points.

The Entry/Exit System (EES) and the Registered Traveller Program (RTP) will make an important contribution to strengthening the Schengen area and will bring significant benefits for the border check procedure, the management of migration flows and overall migration policy. Border crossings by non-EU nationals travelling frequently will be facilitated by the RTP: this programme, which is fee based and voluntary, allows eligible travellers who have been pre-screened successfully, to benefit from facilitated and even automated border checks.

With the help of these programmes, security and prevention of irregular immigration is not diminished during the border crossing process, while the EU’s openness to the world and its capacity to facilitate cross-border people-to-people contacts, trade and cultural exchange is boosted.

An RTP for all third-country nationals will show the EU’s determined ambition to be open for legitimate travel. The programme would be the first in the world which is open to all third countries, and which is operable across several states, in this case across the whole Schengen area. In this context, Europe can be seen as a pacesetter for the rest of the world.

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/99 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.