Should EU member states manage border controls as a bloc?

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FILE PHOTO: Migrants gather at the hotspot, a reception centre for migrants, ahead of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's visit to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy, September 17, 2023. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo

The European Union is currently grappling with a surge in both legal and illegal migrant arrivals, leading several member states to temporarily reimpose border controls within the typically border-free Schengen zone. The Schengen rules permit such measures “as a last resort” in cases considered serious threats to internal security or public policy.

The Arguments 

The EU has sought to address irregular migration through measures such as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) and agreements with non-EU countries to manage migration flows.

Despite these common frameworks, member states retain control over certain aspects of their immigration policies, such as legal migration, integration measures, and border control. In recent years, there has been ongoing debate and negotiation among EU member states about how to manage migration more effectively and equitably.

Some economists argue that the EU was conceived on the basis of shared values, one based on the rule of law, solidarity and peace, values migrants rely upon. They also argue that Europe is taking in considerably less migrants than it needs, and should coordinate between member states to agree upon a number as a bloc. As the European Union is also a single market, one in which goods, services and people can move freely, it would be beneficial for the whole that migration be managed on the EU level and not at the member state level.

The facts

At the EU level, the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) aims to harmonize asylum policies among member states. The CEAS includes regulations for determining which member state is responsible for processing an asylum application, common standards for reception conditions, and qualifications for asylum seekers. However, the implementation of these regulations can vary among member states.

Several countries have implemented stricter border checks:

  • Austria initiated checks at its Czech Republic border in October, scheduled until December 6. In November, it extended controls with Slovenia and Hungary until May 2024, citing pressures on the asylum reception system, threats of arms trafficking, criminal networks linked to the Ukraine war, and people smuggling.
  • In August, Denmark tightened border controls at Copenhagen airport for arrivals, including those from Schengen countries, in response to security concerns following incidents of Koran burnings. Checks on the Danish-German land border and ferry ports to Germany were extended until May 2024, as mentioned in an EU commission report, due to increased irregular migration and perceived threats from terrorism, organized crime, foreign intelligence espionage, and the conflict in Ukraine.
  • Germany announced border controls in September on its land borders with Poland, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland, set to continue until December 4. The decision was prompted by a surge in immigration and heightened smuggling levels. Germany also prolonged land border checks with Austria until May 2024, attributing this to strain on its asylum reception system, security threats related to Middle East terrorism, and the situation in Ukraine.
  • Italy reintroduced police checks at its northeast land border with Slovenia on October 21, expressing concerns that some migrants on the Balkan route could be terrorists. These controls are expected to remain in place at least until December 9, with the possibility of extension into the next year, according to Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi.
  • Norway, although not an EU member, reinstated border controls in its ports with ferry connections to the Schengen area starting November 12, citing threats to on-shore and off-shore infrastructure, and from foreign intelligence services. These controls are set to last until May 5, 2024.
  • Poland extended temporary controls on its border with Slovakia until December 3, citing efforts by migrants to illegally enter from that direction.
  • Sweden strengthened border checks in August, granting border police increased powers, including body searches and expanded electronic surveillance. The heightened threat level was attributed to thwarted attacks following Koran burnings. As of November, these border checks are extended until May 2024.
  • France reintroduced controls on its borders with Schengen members in November, citing terrorism threats. These controls are expected to remain in effect until April 30, 2024, following Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin’s announcement of reinforced security measures at the Belgian border in October.
  • Slovakia’s government approved maintaining temporary controls on its border with Hungary until December 23, aiming to limit illegal arrivals amid a substantial increase in detentions compared to the previous year.
  • Slovenia extended border controls with Schengen members until December 9, citing armed conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle East, and Africa, along with elevated threats from organized crime and terrorism. The government plans to reintroduce controls on those borders for six months, starting from December 22. In October, Slovenia deployed police on border crossings with Croatia and Hungary.

Regarding tightened borders with non-EU countries, Finland temporarily closed all but one of its eight passenger crossings to Russia on November 24, following the arrival of over 700 migrants at different border stations in a span of two weeks. Helsinki attributes the influx to Moscow, which denies responsibility, and no reopening date has been announced yet.

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