Questions and Answers – The State of Schengen

(Source: European Commission)

Which documents is the Commission adopting today?

What has been achieved since the adoption of the Schengen Strategy?

Since the adoption of the Schengen Strategy in June 2021, the Commission has put forward measures to make the Schengen Area stronger and more adaptable to constant challenges. At the same time, it has worked to facilitate entry procedures to the EU, while increasing the level of security, and to improve the governance of the Schengen area by fostering the political dialogue of all the actors involved.

Key initiatives include:

In addition to this, Member States, the European Union Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems and the Commission have further stepped up efforts to implement new IT architecture and interoperability systems, with planned entry into operation in the end of September 2022 for the Entry-Exit System and 2023 for European Travel Information and Authorisation System.

More efforts have been made to reinforce governance of the Schengen area. To foster political dialogue on addressing common challenges, the Commission is convening regular Schengen Forums gathering Members of the European Parliament and Home Affairs Ministers. The next Schengen Forum is planned for 2 June 2022.

The State of Schengen report

Why is the Commission adopting a State of Schengen report?

Following last year Schengen Strategy, this is the first time that the Commission is presenting such report. Around 700 million people continue to cross Europe’s external borders every year, the vast majority of whom are non-EU citizens arriving regularly. Today, around 1.4 billion people from around 60 countries worldwide can benefit from visa-free travel to the EU. This makes the EU still the most welcoming destination.

The Commission is adopting the report to take stock of the status of the Schengen area and how it has responded to recent challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic and the instrumentalisation of migrants by Belarus, and the refugee situation resulting from the Russian military aggression of Ukraine. The document identifies current challenges and recommends priority actions for the way forward. This is intended to be an annual report at the start of each Schengen cycle.

How is the report integrated into the Schengen cycle and the new Schengen governance system?

The Commission has developed a new governance for the Schengen area, in the form of the Schengen cycle. This cycle provides regular ‘health check’ on the state of Schengen, that is intended to identify problems early on, to ensure common responsibility and to ensure that the appropriate measures are taken. The starting point of the annual Schengen cycle is the annual State of Schengen report. It will serve as a basis for an interinstitutional discussion at the annual Schengen Forum, and a political discussion at the June Schengen Council, where Ministers are expected to deliberate on the main priorities that need to be addressed. The cycle will then continue with the monitoring of the main challenges for Schengen through the Schengen Evaluation Mechanism. The last phase of the annual Schengen cycle will look at progress made in addressing priorities and future efforts to feed into preparation for the next annual cycle.

How did the Schengen area respond to recent challenges?

The coronavirus pandemic has been a key challenge for the Schengen area. At the start of the pandemic, the introduction of internal border controls and the suspension visa applications put at risk the overall functioning of the Schengen area and created temporary disruption in the Internal Market. The common European response  to the coronavirus outbreak also focused on how to increase coordination and restore freedom of movement. This experience exposed the need for a system for coordination and decision-making in crisis situations. Building on the lessons learnt during the pandemic, the Commission’s proposal to amend the Schengen Borders Code introduced a coordination mechanism to deal with threats at the external borders, and a safeguard mechanism to provide a common response at the internal borders, to increase resilience and preparedness.

Moreover, since the beginning of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, more than 6 million people have entered the European Union from Ukraine, escaping from the war. The EU and its Member States are showing commitment and unprecedented solidarity in the face of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine, and the arrival of millions seeking a safe haven in the EU. At early stages of the EU solidarity with Ukraine, the Commission adopted operational guidelines to help Member States’ border guards facilitating the arrivals of people at the borders with Ukraine. Through the activation of the Temporary Protection Directive, the Solidarity Platform, the European Migration Network and the Blueprint Crisis Management Network – as well as the operational guidelines to Member States and the 10-point plan – the Commission is coordinating immediate support to those fleeing the war in Ukraine.

EU agencies swiftly provided concrete support:

  • Frontex immediately deployed additional staff to the EU-Ukraine borders in the framework of the already existing Joint Operation Terra and also following requests from Member States.
  • Europol’s experts and guest officers deployed at the EU external borders are supporting Member States, reinforcing secondary security checks as well as analysing criminal information to be able to support investigations and to produce a full criminal intelligence picture and consolidated data analysis.
  • The Fundamental Rights Agency visited all Member States bordering Ukraine and Moldova, observing and analysing the fundamental rights situation at border crossing points and registration/reception centres.

Where do we stand on making the Schengen area complete?

The Commission considers that Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania fulfil the necessary criteria and once again calls upon the Council to take the necessary steps to consolidate the Schengen area by adopting the decision for enabling these Member States to become formally part of it. The same will apply to Cyprus once it has successfully completed the Schengen evaluation process.

What are the main policy priorities and the priority actions identified for the year ahead?

The State of Schengen Report identifies the following policy priorities for the year ahead:

  1. Strengthened management of the external borders.
  2. Ensure internal border controls are measures of last resort maintained for a limited period and accompanied by mitigating measures, where necessary.
  3. Strengthened internal security through reinforced police cooperation within the EU.

What are the main developments as regards Frontex?

Frontex fulfils a critically important task to support Member States manage common European Union external borders, and to uphold fundamental rights in doing so. The report presents the important progress made on the implementation of the European Border and Coast Guard Regulation, on the recruitment of the standing corps, and on returns operations. In addition to this, a new Fundamental Rights Officer and a Deputy Fundamental Rights Officer took up duties respectively in June 2021 and March 2022. Their work is supported by 20 Fundamental Rights Monitors and their number will increase to 46 Monitors by the end of the summer. The Frontex Management Board will continue to further strengthen the oversight of the Agency’s internal management and its activities. At the same time, given the enhanced mandate and significantly reinforced resources, the Agency should ensure its full accountability towards the EU institutions. In the lead up to the upcoming evaluation of the functioning of the Agency, the Commission will launch a dialogue with the European Parliament and the Council in relation to the governance of the Agency.

How does the report integrate the results of the Schengen Evaluations?

The Schengen evaluation mechanism monitors the implementation of the Schengen acquis – our common set of Schengen rules that apply to all Member States and Schengen Associated countries. The purpose of the mechanism is to ensure an effective, consistent, timely and transparent application of Schengen rules by Schengen Member States, while at the same time maintaining a high-level of mutual trust between Member States. The report reflects the conclusions drawn from the evaluations carried out during the past years. The Commission will engage bilaterally with each Member State to discuss in more detail the level of implementation of the Schengen acquis.

What are the main results of the evaluations?

  • At the external borders: Member States invested significantly to better protect the external borders, resulting in improvements and in an adequate level of external border management in general. More improvement should be done for the instance in strategic governance and planning of national capabilities for integrated border management.
  • Visa policy: Member States are generally implementing the common visa policy adequately. More progress can be made in the areas of training, and to make full use of the Visa Information System.
  • Returns: evaluations have demonstrated improvements in this field and Member States’ national legislation and practices are now better aligned to the requirements of the Return Directive. However, there are still improvements to be made in particular on detention conditions and insufficient procedural safeguards, as well on the effective enforcement of return decisions. On 2 March 2022 the Commission appointed the first EU Return Coordinator. The Return Coordinator will bring together the strands of EU return policy, building on positive experiences of Member States in managing returns and facilitating a seamless and interlinked implementation of the return process. The Commission is in the process of setting up the High-Level Network for Return which will support the Return Coordinator to facilitate practical cooperation between Member States, the Commission and Frontex and serve as a trusted space for constructive exchange and dialogue on return matters at high level.
  • Police cooperation: Member States are generally legally compliant with the Schengen rules, but in some cases, they should improve the practical use of some of the cross-border police cooperation tools available. The use and exchange of Advance Passenger Information in combination with Passenger Name Records already delivered tangible results in the fight against terrorism and serious crime. A new legislative initiative is under preparation to improve the use of Advanced Passenger Information also for law enforcement to be presented by the end of 2022.
  • Schengen Information System: Member States have generally implemented and used the Schengen Information System effectively and in a uniform manner. At the same time, improvements should be made making full use of the functions available (for instance the use of fingerprint search functionalities), and reinforcing human and technical resources.
  • Data protection: Member States comply with EU rules on data protection. In some cases the evaluations have flags that more resources should be made available to the data protection authorities in order for them to carry out all their Schengen Information System and Visa Information System related tasks. During the implementation of the new information systems for border control (Entry-Exit System, ETIAS, interoperability), the privacy-by-design approach shall be fully embraced by all responsible entities.

How does the Schengen Evaluation work?

Each Member State has been evaluated at least once during the 5-year evaluation cycle.  The evaluation is followed by a Commission report, on the basis of which recommendations are adopted along with the priorities for implementing these. Within two months of the adoption of the report, the Member State concerned is required to submit an action plan setting out how it intends to remedy the identified challenges. The Commission reviews the implementation of the plan on a regular basis, and may require that the Member State concerned provides a revision. In addition, the Commission, Frontex or other EU bodies, agencies or offices can assist Member States in fulfilling the recommendations via practical and financial measures. EU funds in the field of Home Affairs specifically provide for the possibility for the Member States to implement the Schengen Evaluation Working Group (SCHE-VAL) recommendations with their support. In case a serious deficiency is identified, the evaluated Member State has to start immediately implementing actions to remedy the deficiency even before the evaluation report is adopted, and will have to inform immediately the Commission and Member States of the measures taken. A revisit to verify the implementation of remedial actions will take place following the evaluation. For closer political scrutiny, the Commission will immediately inform the Council and the European Parliament of the existence of a serious deficiency.

Policy document on the Multiannual Strategic Policy for European Integrated Border Management

Why is the Commission adopting a policy document on the Multiannual Strategic Policy for European Integrated Border Management?

With today’s Policy Document, the Commission is starting a consultation of the European Parliament and of the Council, with the aim to adopt the Multiannual Strategic Policy for European Integrated Border Management by the end of 2022. The Strategic Policy will guide the work of all relevant players at both European and national levels. At operational level, this cycle should give a common framework, steering the daily work of more than 120 000 European Border and Coast Guard officers from national authorities and Frontex. Managing external borders efficiently is fundamental to addressing serious crime with a cross-border dimension such as migrant smuggling, trafficking in human beings, and terrorism and ensuring a high level of internal security within the EU. At the same time it is necessary to ensure that border management works in full respect of the fundamental rights of those coming to the EU, and in a manner that safeguards the free movement of persons.

What is the European Integrated Border Management?

The scope of the European Integrated Border Management is to ensure that all components of external border management (including border control, border surveillance, return etc.) work in an integrated way throughout the EU to reach the objective of open, but well controlled and secure borders. The system is based national and international coordination and cooperation among all relevant authorities and agencies involved in border security and trade facilitation. It is codified in the Regulation (EU) 2016/1624 (European Border and Coast Guard Regulation).

What are the main elements priorities and actions proposed by the Commission as regards integrated border management?

The policy document presents political priorities and strategic guidelines in the following areas:

  • Border controls: to improve inter alia border check procedures, increase preparedness of border guards to assist and identify victims of crimes.
  • Increase cooperation among Member States and authorities involved in search and rescue
  • Support risk analysis and improve information exchange and cooperation as well as cooperation with non-EU countries.
  • Step up operational measures including as regards returns for people who received return decisions issued by a Member State.
  • Implement the renewed EU large-scale IT systems.
  • Ensure full guarantee and respect of fundamental rights in all activities of the European Border and Coast Guard, and at EU and national levels.

What is the European Integrated Border Management cycle and how it is integrated in the Schengen cycle?

The Policy document tabled today by the Commission is the first step of the Multiannual Strategic Policy Cycle for European Integrated Border Management. The structure for the five-year multiannual strategic policy cycle is composed of four main stages:

  1. Political direction by the EU institutions, which starts with the launch of the Commission’s policy document and continues with the adoption of the Commission’s Communication establishing the multiannual strategic policy.
  2. Technical and operational strategy, it will be prepared by the European Border and Cost Guard Management Board building on the Commission’s Communication and in line with the requirements of the Regulation.
  3. National strategies: Member States establish their national strategies for integrated border management.
  4. Evaluation by the Commission: four years after the adoption of the Communication setting out the multiannual strategic policy for European integrated border management, the Commission will carry out a thorough evaluation of the policy’s implementation by all stakeholders at EU and national levels, with a view to preparing the next multiannual strategic policy cycle.

The Commission proposes to integrate the European Integrated Border Management cycle into the Schengen Cycle, which would enable to discuss and monitor of the European Integrated Border Management Cycle in various formations, such as the Schengen Forum and Schengen Council.

What are the next steps?

Today, the Commission submits the policy document to the European Parliament and to the Council for discussion. Following that discussion, the Commission shall adopt a Communication establishing the multiannual strategic policy for European Integrated Border Management by the end of 2022. The multiannual strategic policy will be further implemented through the technical and operational strategy planned to be adopted by the Frontex Management Board in the first half of 2023, in close cooperation between all national authorities responsible for the management of external borders and return.

Report on systematic border checks at the EU external borders

Why is the Commission adopting a report on systematic border checks at the EU external borders?

Since 2017, the countries at the EU’s external borders have to run systematic checks against relevant databases on all persons crossing the external borders. These increased measures were introduced with Regulation (EU) 2017/458, to step up EU efforts to prevent terrorist attacks or organised criminal activities. The report adopted today gives an overview on the implementation and impact of these systematic checks at the EU external borders. It also considers the overall costs for Member States and passengers, identifies challenges and shortcomings in the Regulation’s implementation and analyses its impact. The report highlights that the stakeholders consulted and the statistics available indicate that the regulation has had an overall positive impact on internal security within the Schengen area, particularly thanks to the overall improvements of the data collected and shared to law-enforcement authorities.

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