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Europe: Schengen countries establish crisis council

February 4, 2022

France is hoping to kick-start talks on reforming the EU's asylum application policy as well as the principal of free movement within the Schengen zone.

In this May 2021 photo,  a Greek policeman patrols alongside a steel wall at Evros River, near the village of Poros, at the Greek-Turkish border, Greece
The crisis council hopes to push through much-needed reforms in the Schengen zone, relieving pressure on high-arrival points such as GreeceImage: Giannis Papanikos/AP Photo/picture alliance

Interior ministers from the 26 countries that make up the Schengen zone met in the French city of Lille on Thursday as a prelude to regular council meetings that will discuss questions of borders and migration.

Four non-EU states and 22 of the 27 EU member states make up the Schengen zone, a European area that is normally free of stationary border controls.

The planned Schengen Council will meet for the first time on March 3, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

France currently holds the rotating EU presidency and is aiming to revitalize borderless movement within the zone as well as reforms aimed at restructuring how the bloc processes migrants.

What does France what to achieve with its EU presidency?

French President Emmanuel Macron has previously stated that he wants a quick reform to the principle of free movement in order to normalize it once again after pandemic restrictions wore it down.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin at a meeting with other EU and Schengen interior ministers in Lille on Thursday
French Interior Minister Darmanin met with his Schengen counterparts for an informal discussion ahead of starting official regular meetings in MarchImage: Baziz Chibane/MAXPPP/dpa/picture alliance

A proposal was already put forward by the European Commission last year that would see free movement return and border controls once again just an exception.

France also wants to strengthen controls of the EU's external borders. This includes giving a push to the much-needed asylum reforms.

Previous attempts have failed amid disagreement among EU members, but France is hoping to push reforms through piece by piece.

"The idea was to change the method because the 'all or nothing' strategy until now was mostly leading to nothing," Darmanin said.

What are the proposed asylum reforms?

The EU's current asylum rules state that refugees must apply for asylum in the first member-state they arrive at.

However, this system collapsed in 2015 after millions of people fleeing violence and conflict in Syria and other areas of the Middle East, as well as Northern Africa and Asia.

Many headed through Turkey to Greece

with the EU-member state unable to deal with the sudden influx. Other members of the bloc were reluctant to help.

Greece — along with Italy, Spain and Malta — are still the main landing points for migrants and asylum-seekers looking to reach Europe.

The reform aims to set up a "solidarity" principle for the countries where most migrants first arrive. It means that other member states will have to accept migrants or provide financial support.

The French interior minister acknowledged that discussions will be challenging.

ab/rs (AP, dpa)

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