Saturday, 17 September 2011

Central control of Europe's borders proposed

 

The European Union's executive branch proposed Friday that national borders in Europe's visa-free travel zone be controlled by officials in Brussels, the EU capital, rather than by individual governments -- a plan already opposed by Germany, France and Spain. The proposal by the European Commission follows a call for stronger economic governance within the area that uses the euro currency, and reflects a push toward more centralized decision-making to protect the European Union's two proudest achievements, the free movement of both people and capital. It is unclear at this point whether either of those achievements will survive, said Paul de Grauwe, an economics professor and EU expert at the Catholic University of Leuven, in Belgium. "I would say we are at a road, and suddenly there is a bifurcation and we have to make choice," de Grauwe said. "One road is more integration to save the project, to save the Schengen zone and the monetary union. But there is a lot of opposition. It's also possible that we take the other road, no further integration, and then we risk the collapse of these two experiments." In June, EU leaders agreed to set up new rules underpinning the principle of free travel throughout much of the continent after Italy, Denmark and France all took action to roll back visa-free travel. Most of the details of the proposed centralized governance of the 25-country Schengen zone -- named for the town in Luxembourg where the visa-free treaty was negotiated in 1985 -- had already emerged. National governments would retain the right to re-institute border checks in unforeseen emergencies that threaten public order or internal security, but only for five days. Beyond that, approval of the European Commission and a committee of technical experts from the Schengen countries would be needed. And as a last resort, if a country failed persistently to adequately police the Schengen zone's external borders despite help from EU headquarters, the commission with the consent of the committee could impose checks along that country's borders with other Schengen countries. "It is a common European project," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said of the visa-free zone. "We need to work jointly on joint projects to defend them." But there has long been a push and pull between officials who believe the European project can only work with greater integration and those opposed to the weakening of national sovereignty. Even before the Schengen proposal was unveiled Friday, it met with opposition from Germany, France and Spain, who said border control, public order and internal security were matters for national governments, not EU headquarters. Given that opposition, it is unclear whether the proposal in its current form will take effect. Meanwhile, plans to admit two more EU countries -- Romania and Bulgaria -- to the Schengen visa-free zone hit a snag Friday when Dutch Immigration Minister Gerd Leers said his country plans to block their entry. Approval of new Schengen countries must be unanimous. "The trust isn't there," said Leers' spokeswoman, Elaine de Boer. She said Leers "wants to see more work in the fight against corruption" in both countries. Bulgaria's President Georgi Parvanov insisted his country was being unfairly singled out despite meeting the criteria set out by the 17-member bloc for joining the visa-free zone. "I don't think it is right to use any other criteria in solving this matter," he said at a meeting with foreign ambassadors in the capital Sofia.

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