European Union leaders are expected to allow for the temporary reintroduction of border controls in the event of a catastrophic rise in illegal immigration, a move that could see a reworking of the EU’s Schengen zone.
EU leaders in preparation of this weeks summit say they will in favour of the idea of suspension of the Schegan system in its current form, should the need arise.
But the new measures will strictly limit the circumstances in which the borders of participating states can be reinstated – an attempt to preclude the sort of unilateral reintroduction of frontier restrictions as unveiled by France and Denmark in recent months.
A draft of the planned measures states; countries facing spikes in migration will first have to be offered technical assistance from the EU – as well as intervention by the border management agency Frontex – to plug gaps in their external frontiers before they can exclude themselves from Schengen.
None of these measures are likely to come into effect before the end of the year, insiders say. Proposals by the European Commission to deal with the issue have been postponed until the autumn.
With mixed views from member states, the measures were a significant watering down of proposals by some countries for more stringent controls at borders. But the measures still allow new limits on internal movement, the first since passport-free travel came into effect back in 1995.
There is strong opposition to countries being allowed to impose border checks on fellow Schengen members, and to date there has been no collective decision taken by member states in this regard, nor by the European Commission in Brussels.
Member states such as Sweden and Germany estimate the numbers of illegal immigrants from North Africa at around 40,000 since the beginning of 2011.
It has been warned that the continuing flow of migrants from north Africa, now mainly sub-Saharan Africans departing from Libya, could renew the tensions seen earlier in the spring, when Italy and France called on the Commission to reform the Schengen agreement. There seems to be little emphasis on the eastern borders of the EU with the main focus on the seaward African frontiers.