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EU split over Schengen suspension extension

A Franco-German-led group of EU interior ministers discussing whether to extend border controls in the EU's Schengen zone said the bloc is not ready to lift them just yet. Eastern European countries had other ideas.

Germany, France, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Norway told a meeting of EU interior ministers in Luxembourg on Friday that border checks should stay in place until mid-May.

"At the moment we cannot do without checks," said Germany's Thomas de Maiziere.

He added that Berlin was still committed to freedom of movement, but, "the reason [for this] is the tense security situation in Europe with regards to international terrorism and the still inadequate protection of our external borders."

France, which imposed emergency border controls after Islamist attackers killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015, also wants to keep the checks in place. "The issues around terrorism are still extremely important for us," French Interior Minister Gerard Colomb said. 

The other four countries supporting the move cited a "serious threat to public policy or internal security" before the authorization to impose the border checks expires next month.

"The proposed changes in the Schengen borders code will make Schengen stronger and more resilient," European Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said after talks with the ministers. 

Border checks at the German-Polish border have become a rarity, but might make a comeback

Border checks at the German-Polish border have become a rarity, but might make a comeback

EU split

The ministers called for a "quick compromise" between those countries that want to extend checks and others, including Slovenia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, that are afraid the move might fatally undermine European unity and freedom.

The proposed change is "more political than a professional one," Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak told reporters, adding there was no information that recent attacks were committed by people crossing Schengen borders.

The internal border checks were put in place in 2015 to counter high levels of migration and Islamist attacks. The European Commission has said in recent months that the extensions must end in November as the migration crisis has been easing.

Countries in the 26-country Schengen travel area, 22 of them EU members, can currently reintroduce frontier checks for six months for security reasons, and two years if that is combined with a threat to borders such as Europe's migration crisis.

jbh/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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