EC does not sufficiently verify whether reintroduction of pandemic internal border controls complies with Schengen law (report)

The European Commission has not adequately monitored the obstacles posed by the Covid-19 pandemic to the right to free movement of persons, and lack of sufficient tools to do so is the general conclusion reached by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). in a special report published on Monday.

“Surveillance of internal border controls reintroduced by Member States since March 2020 has not ensured full protection of Schengen rules facilitating free movement within the EU. In addition, the Court draws attention to the lack of coordination of travel restrictions imposed by Member States, such as and the lack of consistency with EU guidelines and recommendations.

Every EU citizen has the right to move freely within its territory. Free movement is facilitated by the abolition of internal border controls in the Schengen area, which includes 22 EU Member States and 4 non-EU countries, and which has created a borderless travel area in Europe. However, this right may be restricted on grounds of public policy, public security or public health, “the ECA said in a statement.

Since 2015, several EU countries have reintroduced internal border controls in response to the migration crisis or security threats (mainly terrorism).

“The Commission should have checked carefully whether the restrictions introduced in the pandemic were all relevant and justified.”

Recently, during the Covid-19 pandemic, many Member States took steps to restrict free movement within the EU, in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus.

When reintroducing internal border controls in the Schengen area, Member States are required to notify the European Commission, which continues to be responsible for assessing whether the proposed restrictions comply with EU law and do not affect the right to free movement of persons. shows in the report.

“Given that free movement of persons is one of the four fundamental freedoms of the EU and has been a central element of the European project from the outset, the Commission should have carefully examined whether the restrictions introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic “We hope that the findings of our audit will contribute to the ongoing debate on the review of the Schengen system,” said Baudilio Tome Muguruza, a Member of the Court responsible for this audit.

135 of the 150 EU notifications were exclusively for Covid-19

The Court examined all 150 notifications from Member States concerning internal border controls which were sent to the European Commission in
March 2020-June 2021, of which 135 referred exclusively to COVID-19.

This examination clearly showed that the notifications did not contain sufficient evidence that these border controls were a measure of last resort and that they were proportionate and limited in time.

Moreover, the Commission has not initiated infringement proceedings in connection with long-term border controls introduced before the pandemic, the ECA report reports.

In addition, the Commission did not obtain all the reports it was required to receive within four weeks of the cessation of internal border controls. As in the case of control measures imposed by the migration crisis and security threats before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission did not request additional information or issue an opinion on the controls in question.

“The Court’s conclusion is therefore clear: The European Commission has not properly checked whether the reintroduction of internal border controls complies with Schengen legislation“, underlines the quoted source.

According to her, the Commission also encountered difficulties due to the limitations affecting the existing legal framework for the surveillance of travel restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the responsibility for implementing these restrictions lies solely with the Member States, the European Commission is mandated to facilitate a coordinated approach so as to minimize the impact on cross-border travel within the EU. To this end, guidelines have been issued, generally in a timely manner.

“However, the Court found that these guidelines on internal border controls were not sufficiently practical or easy to apply,” the report said.

The Commission has also launched initiatives to coordinate measures affecting free movement. One of these initiatives is EU Re-open platform, launch
on 1 June 2020 to support the safe resumption of travel and tourism across Europe. However, more than a year after its launch, nine Member States (Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, France, Romania, Slovenia, Finland and Sweden) had not yet provided updated information. Similarly, the Commission’s efforts to offset the lack of a governance structure in crisis situations by setting up the Coronavirus Information Group have not resulted in a consistent approach.

In the Court’s view, the travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic remained largely uncoordinated, and the Commission was unable to prevent the emergence of a mosaic of individual measures, which varies considerably from one Member State to another.

Freedom to travel, study and work anywhere in the EU, first in the polls

The ECA states that the Treaty on European Union states that the EU must provide its citizens with “an area of ​​freedom, security and justice, without internal frontiers within which the free movement of persons is ensured”. EU citizens see free movement as a particularly important achievement of European integration.

Freedom to travel, study and work anywhere in the EU is the European Union’s most recognized achievement by citizens, ranking first in polls in all EU Member States, ahead of the euro and peace.

Free movement of persons within the EU is different from the abolition of internal border controls in the Schengen area. Citizens can move freely within the Schengen area without being subject to internal border controls. EU citizens enjoy the right to free movement throughout the EU, including to and from EU Member States that have not (yet) abolished internal border controls.

Editor: GM

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