Free movement within the Schengen area is one of the main accomplishments of the EU as we know it today. Our brain hardly remembers the time where we had to patiently queue, show our papers and possibly open our luggage at every single internal border crossing. Bet you will find no citizen claiming a return to past. Different is the picture when it comes to Governments.
After some times of relative quiteness (interrupted by some short unilateral reintroduction of border controls in the occasion of sport events or big demonstrations, which is already allowed by the present Schengen Treaty under some conditions), a real attack to the system came after the French-Italian quarrel in the wave of the Arab Spring: Italy wouldn’t be able/willing to control its border, France would then close the internal border between the two countries, in total disrespect of the EU law.
The quarrel became immediately a big political issue, with some Governments showing solidarity with France, the European Parliament immediately rejecting any change in the system and defending freedom of movement, and the Commission inbetween: trying to find a convergence and issuing a couple of proposals in order to slightly enlarge possibilities of re-establishing internal border checks in extreme cases. After one year, no agreement among the three institutions had been found yet, thanks basically to the Parliament’s hard line, often implying that the only reason for these new proposals would be making the French government (and its friends) happy. And you know what? Governments found a new way out to get what they were looking for!
On June 7th, EU home affairs ministers voted unanimously (I said unanimously: all governments, included the newly elected Hollande government) for the re-introduction of internal border controls in the Schengen area, dwarfing the decision-making role of EU institutions. How was that possible? Simply said: ministers voted to change the co-decision procedure on the matter (which implies equal footing for Council and Parliament) to a mere consultation procedure (meaning the EP position can be totally ignored). In short: Parliament doesn’t agree? We take it out of the procedure. What a genius idea!
The European Parliament reacted strongly and starting from this monday you’ll possibly get a lot from the news about this: President Martin Schulz stated that the Council “disrespects Parliament’s powers and is a step in the wrong direction on Schengen”; the Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee has scheduled an extraordinary vote on the Schengen Governance Package in order to re-affirm its position; Parliament also wants the Danish EU Presidency to explain its position in its plenary sitting this week. The full artillery.
A true power game has started, we’ll see who will win. Let’s hope the fight will not put at stake citizens’ freedom of movement, nor asylum seekers’ right: because we shouldn’t forget that the whole intergovernmental quarrel was born from the incapacity of a Government (Italy in this case) to face a humanitarian crisis. Europe had better concentrate in improving its asylum and reception system instead of losing time, energy and money into this new power game.
Chiara Tamburini, lawyer and political advisor