With a new steering group, the French EU Presidency wants to monitor the coordinates of asylum and migration policy in Europe. The basis is a new measuring instrument for “migratory pressure”.
EU interior ministers have followed the suggestion of French President Emmanuel Macron and decided to set up a Schengen Council at their recent meeting in Lille. The French EU presidency calls it the “most appropriate forum for essential exchange of views at the political level”, according to a document from the Council published yesterday by the British civil liberties organisation Statewatch. It will be constituted at the upcoming Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Brussels on 3 and 4 March.
As a steering group, the Schengen Council is to monitor the situation at the EU’s external borders and dovetail it with measures within the Schengen area. In this way, the member states are to prevent further erosion of the freedom of movement and ensure a reduction of internal border controls. Their temporary reintroduction is permitted under the Schengen Borders Code, but since 2015 some states have made excessive use of them.
Joint committee with Schengen states
The Schengen area currently comprises 22 EU states (non-members are Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus), as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The interior ministers of all 26 members meet regularly in the Mixed Committee, in which relevant questions of the so-called Schengen acquis are dealt with and decided upon, including, for example, the restriction of freedom of movement or the upgrading of surveillance and control at the external borders.
The Mixed Committee is supposed to form the legal framework for the Schengen Council; however, it is still unclear what weight the non-EU countries will receive there. Discussions on the establishment and orientation of the Schengen Council are held by the EU members in the Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum; at the most recent meeting, the topic was on the agenda as “Confidence in the Schengen Area”.
Wanted: A Schengen Coordinator
The Schengen Council should also determine the response to “crises”. According to the proposal, this would concern other agencies, including Frontex, whose guidelines the new body should discuss at least once a year. This would give the interior ministers in the Schengen Council a parallel structure to the Frontex Management Board, which is made up of high-ranking officials from all Schengen states and the Commission and takes political and strategic decisions on the direction of the border agency.
Unlike the EU Presidency, the Schengen Council is not to be supervised by rotating governments, but by a Schengen coordinator yet to be appointed. The latter is to prepare the meetings of the body and guarantee the implementation of decided measures.
Measuring “migratory pressure”
For a comprehensive picture of the situation, the Schengen Council wants to set up a “scoreboard” that will be updated several times a year. It is to help measure the “ressure at the external borders, the state of play on asylum and migration, the state of movements within the Schengen area, security risks and health risks”.
The measurement tool brings together various risk and threat analyses, including situation reports from Frontex and Europol, the EU Rapid Response Mechanism or the EU secret services situation centre INTCEN. With regard to travel restrictions in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, the Schengen Council intends to rely on analyses by the European Public Health Emergency Response Authority. The “scoreboard” will also count and assess authorised entries into the Schengen area, asylum applications and refusals of entry, based on current figures from the Eurodac database, according to the paper. The “saturation rate” of detention and reception capacities for asylum seekers to be deported would also be measured.
Frontex for “all sorts of emergency situations”
In the event of a “crisis” at an EU external border, a solidarity platform would be activated in which all Schengen states are to participate. It would also be possible to send police forces from individual, willing member states within the framework of the Prüm Decisions. The treaty concluded in 2008 allows for joint patrols or operations in large-scale police situations, whereby the seconded officers may also exercise sovereign powers in the host state.
Frontex is at the centre of the solidarity platform. Following an amendment to its regulation, the border agency will establish its own border force in 2019 with 10,000 officers, a large part of whom will be uniformed, armed and commanded by Frontex itself in Warsaw. This permanent reserve is described in the paper of the French EU Presidency as the “spearhead of our border protection”. It could be used for “all sorts of emergency situations”. According to the Council document, these are often “of a mixed nature, combining migration risks, security risks, civil protection issues and defence issues”.