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Europe: Tensions Among Schengen Members Are Set To Last

3 MINS READMay 17, 2017 | 18:10 GMT

Even after temporary border controls enacted last year in the normally passport-free Schengen area expire in November, freedom of movement among all 26 participating European countries may not be fully restored. Speaking to the Danish parliament on May 16, Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said that Denmark would maintain controls at its border with Germany as long as the European Union could not guarantee controls on the Schengen area's outer borders. The temporary border controls established by the European Commission in response to the Continent's migrant crisis are set to expire Nov. 11. Loekke Rasmussen, however, has made it clear that the number of migrants using the route that crosses through the central Mediterranean from Libya to Italy is still too high, and it's unlikely that Denmark will lift its border controls in six months.

The controls inside the normally passport-free Schengen area were initially adopted on May 12, 2016. Due to "exceptional circumstances putting the overall functioning of the Schengen area at risk," five Schengen countries (Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway) were allowed to enforce them. The last possible extension of border controls under the procedure was adopted May 2017, and they will have to be phased out by November.

These temporary border controls were enacted because of the lack of efficient controls at the outermost border of the Schengen area in Greece. An extraordinary number of migrants plied the eastern Mediterranean route in 2015 to reach Greece from Turkey. Even after the crisis abated, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency was in place, and the EU-Turkey migrant deal was signed, the European Commission allowed the border controls to remain because migrants who had already reached Greece were still trying to reach northern Europe through the Balkans.

But the Danish prime minister referred to the flow of migrants entering from the central Mediterranean route to Italy, not Greece. Austria has repeatedly expressed concern about this route as well. In April 2016, it specifically prepared infrastructure to carry out border controls on the Brenner Pass, the main crossing point from Italy to Austria.

The number of migrants entering Europe tells its own story. So far this year, over 45,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to reach Italy. Last year, that number had topped 181,000. Meanwhile, only about 6,100 migrants have arrived in Greece so far in 2017, compared with about 173,000 in 2016. According to EU rules, the country of arrival for these migrants should not allow them to travel further into the Schengen area. Other EU member states, however, have often complained that Italy fails to enforce that rule. Italy has pledged to strengthen its controls, but it has also called on its fellow member states to accept relocated migrants, as prescribed by EU rules. Several countries, notably Austria, Poland and Hungary, have yet to accept any migrants, and Hungary and Slovakia have filed a case against the EU relocation scheme in general at the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Although temporary border controls cannot be extended after the November deadline — in theory — Denmark, Austria and other signatories to the Schengen Agreement could still ask to start a new procedure motivated by the migrant flow through Italy, not Greece. Because of security concerns, the five member states most affected by migrant flows have been reluctant to give up border controls. Austria also has parliamentary elections in October, and as its mainstream parties compete with the anti-migrant far right, they will campaign to keep the border secure to reassure their electorate. Until those countries are satisfied with the efforts to control migrant flows, tensions among Schengen countries are set to last.

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