The proposal, backed by Austria, Denmark and Norway and leaked to several European media organisations, says that in “exceptional circumstances” Schengen members should be able to double the length of time for which they are currently allowed to suspend the zone along their internal borders.
“We call on the [European] commission to submit draft legislation aimed at amending the provisions … to allow member states to reintroduce internal border controls for periods longer than currently provided for,” the document says.
This can be extended by additional six-month periods, up to a maximum of two years.
In September 2015, at the height of Europe’s migration crisis, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway reimposed border checks, and they have since been authorised to extend these to November. France reimposed controls in November 2015 after the Charlie Hebdo attacks and will retain them until next month.
The signatories to the proposal say that although the migration crisis has subsided, the terrorism threat justifies maintaining border controls in some cases. The current limits “do not match the needs in the context of a long-term terrorist threat”, the document says.
The European commissioner for migration and home affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos, who had previously said it was time to “go back to the normal functioning” of the Schengen zone, said after a meeting of interior ministers on Thursday that Brussels understood the countries’ concerns.
“The commission recognises that new security challenges have appeared in the past years, as demonstrated by the recent terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Turku.” Avramopoulos said the Schengen borders code “may not be sufficiently adapted to address the evolving challenges” and an update would be formally tabled this month.
France’s interior minister, Gérard Collomb, said he had raised the issue “some time ago with my German colleague … and from what I heard from the commissioner he indeed wants to make the Schengen code more flexible, to allow us to protect our borders against terrorism.”
The commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, who in his state of the union address this week called for a widening of the Schengen area to include Romania and Bulgaria, said on Thursday that the people who benefited most from open borders were European citizens.
“It’s true that occasionally terrorists do benefit from [Schengen], but the prime beneficiaries are European citizens,” he said. “We’re being told you’re opening the borders to terrorists. No, we are opening the borders for tourists.”