EU member states that do not protect their external borders effectively against illegal migrants could find themselves temporarily cut off from the Union under proposals from the European Commission.
The plans would see a European system of border guards, a strengthened Frontex — the body charged with co-ordinating members’ controls on the EU’s external borders — and changes to the Schengen mechanism that allows free movement of people between 25 European countries. Ireland and Britain are not members, while Bulgaria and Romania’s membership is pending.
The revised and reinforced migration policy comes amid a myriad of reasons: fear of an influx of migrants from North Africa as a result of the Arab spring revolts; threats by France and Italy to close their borders and as a result of a decision last year by EU leaders to revise the current policy.
The Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, warned there was no quick fix to threats of whole scale migration.
The proposals, to be rolled out over the next few months, include coming to arrangements with non-EU countries to ensure they prevent illegal immigration and agree to take back those refused residency in the EU.
Italy had such an arrangement with Libya and others had been planned by the EU in the past.
Ms Malmstrom said that recent events had triggered concerns about the functioning of the Schengen system, but she warned that “the free movement of people across European borders is a major achievement which must not be reversed, but rather strengthened”.
The Commission wants a system that would evaluate how effectively external borders are controlled.
“To safeguard the stability of the Schengen area it may also be necessary to foresee the temporary re-introduction of limited internal border controls under very exceptional circumstances, such as where a part of the external border comes under heavy unexpected pressure”, she said.
“Very few asylum seekers have arrived in Europe so far,” Ms Malmstrom said, claiming only 25,000 had come, and then, mainly to Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa.
The proposals will be debated by Justice Ministers from member states next week and by EU leaders in June.
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