Communication: Back to Schengen – a roadmap

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Series Details (2016) 120 final (4.3.16)
Publication Date 04/03/2016
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Schengen is one of the major achievements of European integration. The creation of an internal area without borders where persons and goods can circulate freely has brought important benefits to European citizens and business alike. Schengen is one of the key means through which European citizens can exercise their freedoms, and the internal market can prosper and develop.

Yet in recent months the system has been shaken to its core by the scale of the challenge of facing up to the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. The conflict and crisis in Syria and elsewhere in the region have triggered record numbers of refugees and migrants arriving in the European Union, which in turn has revealed serious deficiencies at parts of the Union's external borders and resulted in a wave-through approach applied by some Member States. This has led to the creation of a route across the Western Balkans which sees migrants travelling swiftly north. In reaction, several Member States have resorted to reintroducing temporary internal border controls, placing in question the proper functioning of the Schengen area of free movement and its benefits to European citizens and the European economy.

Restoring the Schengen area, without controls at internal borders, is therefore of paramount importance for the European Union as a whole. This was recognised by the European Council of 18/19 February which gave a clear mandate to restore, in a concerted manner, the normal functioning of the Schengen area while giving full support to Member States in the most difficult circumstances. Actions are needed in three areas to bring the Schengen system of border management back to normality.

First, steps must be taken to remedy the serious deficiencies that were identified in the management of the external border by Greece. Member States, EU Agencies and the Commission should all assist Greece in this regard. Second, the wave-through approach must end. Member States must take their responsibilities and comply with EU law, both in terms of granting access to the asylum procedure for persons requesting asylum and in terms of refusing entry at the border to persons who do not satisfy the entry conditions; under EU law, asylum seekers have no right to choose the Member State granting them protection. Third, the current patchwork of unilateral decisions on the reintroduction of border controls needs to be replaced with a coordinated approach to temporary border controls, with the aim to subsequently lift all internal border controls as quickly as possible and with a clear target date of December 2016. The Schengen Borders Code expressly provides for such a coordinated approach.

The current crisis has also underlined the close structural links between border management and related areas. The absence of internal border controls should go hand in hand with the framing of a common policy on asylum, immigration and external border control, based on solidarity between Member States, and which is fair to third-country nationals. It is therefore essential that the European Border and Coast Guard is agreed and legally adopted by June 2016 at the very latest so that it can start functioning during the summer, to ensure that the European Union can deliver on the joint responsibility of protecting the external border.

Moreover, related challenges beyond border control need to be addressed in order to create the confidence needed to restore the full functioning of the Schengen area, as set out in the Commission's Communication of 10 February 2016. This includes in particular a substantial reduction in the flow of irregular migrants to Greece, by working with Turkey to fully implement the Joint Action Plan, and with the support of NATO. The full application of the existing Dublin rules must be progressively restored, with the full participation of Greece, in line with the Commission's recommendation of 10 February 2016, whilst improving these rules for the future based on the objective of solidarity and fair burden-sharing between Member States. The emergency relocation schemes already in place since September 2015 must deliver concrete results in terms of meaningful volumes of persons relocated from Greece. Those persons who have no right to stay in the European Union must be effectively returned.

Taken together and in a coordinated way, these measures will lay the foundations for a return to a normally functioning Schengen area at the latest by the end of 2016. This roadmap sets out the steps that need to be taken in order to achieve this objective.

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ESO: Background information: Back to Schengen: Commission proposes Roadmap for restoring fully functioning Schengen system

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