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Freedom of movement

Interview: Friederike Windgens / mllMay 30, 2013

The countries in the Schengen border-free area will in future be able to impose border controls if they don't like how other countries control immigration. DW spoke to a Green member of the European parliament.

A border post between Poland and Ukraine in Medyka PAP/Darek Delmanowicz
Image: picture alliance/PAP

Deutsche Welle: The EU member states, the European parliament and the EU commission have all agreed that countries in the border-free Schengen area of the EU will be allowed to impose border controls if they fear the arrival of large numbers of refugees. Is that the end of the Schengen agreement?

Ska Keller: Not the end, perhaps, but we certainly see the danger that the decision means that there will be new limitations on the Schengen agreement and that the freedom of movement allowed to EU citizens is being slowly undermined.

Even before the decision on Thursday (30.05.2013), individual states had the right to impose border controls and restrict freedom of movement if there were planned or unplanned events such as an international football championship or a terror attack. Why was the reform needed in the first place?

The whole debate began as a result of the Arab Spring, when migrants arrived in Italy, where they were given papers and allowed to travel to France. That led to a big debate as to who was allowed to travel, and as to whether one shouldn't reform the Schengen agreement. The EU Commission originally proposed that the agreement was something we all hold in common, so that any decision as to whether a border might be closed would have to be made on the European level.

Ska Keller
Ska Keller is a member of the European Parliament specializing in migrationImage: ska-keller.de

In the Greens, we agreed with that, and we supported the proposal. But unfortunately, today's decision puts us in a worse situation than we were before. The commission gets a marginally more important role, since it has to oversee the measures taken by the individual countries. However, there are now more reasons that member states can offer to justify closing their borders - specifically, when the border controls in other Schengen countries are seriously inadequate. That's a very woolly criterion which could mean anything.

But all the countries have to agree, and the EU commission has the last word. Isn't that security enough that this emergency clause won't be abused?

We have seen in the past that border controls can be introduced very quickly, and not just when there's a serious risk. A football game or a papal visit have been reason enough to close a border. And now there is no effective mechanism to stop that. In the end, it's the member states which hold the strings, and can decide for themselves if they are going to close their borders or not.

Germany was one of the main proponents of the emergency clause. Germany is not on the outer border of the Schengen area, and, unlike Italy and Greece, it is not the target of refugee boats with thousands of people on board. Can you explain why Germany was so insistent on this new rule?

I find the German position very dishonest. When Denmark closed its border with Germany two years ago, there was a huge outcry, not least from the interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich. Everyone said that what Denmark was doing was impossible, and that one shouldn't do that. But Germany is very happy to go along with plans to close its own borders. I consider that to be a very dangerous position.

What does the decision mean for refugees who are coming to Europe?

For refugees it means in principle that they can be used as an argument to close the border. The criterion that the border controls are inadequate in a certain country is fulfilled as soon as there are many immigrants arriving there, as, for example, in Greece. Then that argument can be used to justify closing the borders to that country. That has a negative effect on the refugees, since that means that Greece will also try to keep the people out.

Has the influx of refugees in Europe really increased so much since the beginning of the Arab Spring?

Worldwide, it's only a small percentage of refugees who come to Europe - about 9 percent. Most refugees stay in other regions, like Pakistan, or the countries which border on Syria. Europe is not one of the main targets for migration and exile. We can't stand up and say: we are the target of mass migration.

At the moment, another report is causing concern: Italy has been giving refugees 500 euros and a temporary residence permit, and then apparently telling them to go to Germany. Italy has admitted that it's paying the money, but its denied that it was telling the refugees to go to Germany. Now, apparently, Rome is prepared to take them back. What can the European parliament do against such a way of treating people?

The problem is not so much that the refugees have arrived in Germany, but that Italy has not made any effort to look after them and has simply put them on the street. That shows once more that there is really no European asylum system, even though there are guidelines which say that Italy also has to look after the refugees. I think the European institutions have to put much more pressure on Italy to follow the guidelines. Italy must do more to look after its refugees and should not just send them away.

Ska Keller is a German member of the European Parliament for the Green party specializing in migration issues.