EU agrees on bord checks in Schengen

EU agrees on bord checks in Schengen

EU agrees on bord checks in Schengen

EU commissioner Malmström (L) speaks with French Interior Minister Valls. AFP photo

European Union nations agreed yesterday they can temporarily restore border checks within the visa-free Schengen area in case of a surge of illegal migrants, despite opposition from Brussels.

Officials from Denmark, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said home affairs ministers from the 27-nation bloc had unanimously agreed to the move.

“Disappointed by lack of European ambition among member states,” Agence France-Presse quoted the EU’s home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström as saying, who opposed the move. The agreement will enable the 26 countries in the travel-free Schengen area to restore border controls for up to a year under “exceptional circumstances.”

Turkey Greece border

Those circumstances, according to demands made by France and Germany earlier this year, are problems related to illegal immigration, which has emerged as one of Europe’s most sensitive political issues amid the debt crisis, slow growth and mounting unemployment.

Malmström has repeatedly argued that Schengen was never designed to control migration but to ease freedom of movement. The EU’s Frontex agency that mans borders said in a report that registered illegal crossings on the outer borders of the Schengen area shot up by 35 percent in 2011. Numbers rose from 104,000 in 2010 to 141,000 the following year, largely due to flows across the Mediterranean from the Arab Spring upheavals.

But the second biggest hot-spot was the border between Greece and Turkey, which saw 55,000 detections last year. With low-cost flights to Turkey on the increase as war, chaos and poverty send people fleeing hot-spots from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Somalia, the flow is forecast to increase.