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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

Member comments

  1. maybe the duty of european countries is be to respect the geneva convention (for real) and take care of the refugees their own actions create

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POLITICS

Far-right Danish People’s Party chooses new leader

The scandal-hit politician Morten Messerschmidt has been chosen as the new leader of the far-Right Danish People's Party, despite an ongoing case over his alleged defrauding of EU funds.

Far-right Danish People's Party chooses new leader
The Danish People's Party's new leader Morten Messerschmidt holds a bouquet aloft after being elected on Sunday. Photo: Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

Messerschmidt won 60 percent of the 825 votes, easily beating the two other candidates, Martin Henriksen and Merete Dea Larsen.

In a speech after the vote in Herning, the party’s Jutland heartland, Messerschmidt struck a conciliatory tone, saying he hoped to unite the struggling party.

“There will now come a time when we will make our party whole again, where we will gather our party together, and where there will be a place for everyone,” he said. “There will not be any repercussions for what has happened in the time that is now passed. Now we will look forward together.”

Messerschmidt was convicted in August of forging documents and defrauding EU funds. But the judge in the case has since been declared incompetent, meaning the case now needs to be heard in a district court, and perhaps later in Sweden’s high court.

In the run-up to the election, several Danish People’s Party MPs described the ongoing case as a serious hurdle for Messerschmidt’s candidacy.

The harsh conflict between the candidates led party founder Pia Kjærsgaard to describe the leadership contest as the worst she had seen since starting the party in 1995. 

Henriksen, an anti-immigration firebrand who has been one of the party’s staunchest critics of Islam, has predicted that he will be sidelined under Messerschmidt. Several other MPs had openly aired their plans to leave the party if Messerschmidt was appointed leader.

During the campaign, Henriksen laid the blame for many of the party’s problems on his rival, who has been deputy leader since 2020.

“Over the last two to three years, everything has gone completely wrong, and this has happened at the same time as the [person occupying] the second-highest post in the party has changed,” he said.

Messerschmidt announced before the vote that he would make Peter Kofod, a 31-year-old MEP and former primary school teacher, his deputy if elected.

He campaigned on a pledge to form a coalition government with the centre-Right Liberal Party if the right-wing parties achieve a majority in the coming general election. He has also pledged to campaign for a referendum on Denmark’s membership of the European Union.

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