Strasbourg: The EU on Tuesday moved to prolong border controls in the passport-free Schengen area for three months, missing an end-of-year deadline to scrap the emergency measures adopted to cope with last year's massive migrant influx.
The European Commission, the European Union executive arm, recommended continuing checks at the borders of Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and non-EU Norway for three months starting in November.
The EU had said it wanted to restore full functioning with no border controls across the Schengen area – which includes 22 EU countries as well as Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein – by the end of the year. "We are working hard to return to a normal functioning Schengen area as soon as possible, and we have made significant progress," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said in a statement.
"But we are not there yet," he said on the sidelines of a session of the European Parliament in the French city of Strasbourg. The Commission said "a significant number" of irregular migrants remained in Greece and in other member states, with border controls needed to prevent secondary movements that would cause chaos again.
It noted that an EU-Turkey deal in March had sharply reduced the number of people arriving from war-torn Syria and other countries who crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece, the main entry point to Europe last year. It added the recommended extension of checks in the five Schengen states would give them breathing room to cope with a large number of asylum requests over the last year.
The member states grouped in the European Council still have to approve the extensions, but there is no sign they will reject them. EU home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the bloc was gradually regaining control over its external borders, especially with the expected full operation in January of the beefed-up European Border and Coast Guard force.
"We believe that these three months will be the end of this period (of controls) and we shall be back normally to the full functioning of Schengen," he told a press conference. The influx last year of more than one million asylum seekers in the worst such crisis since World War II had raised fears of a collapse of the Schengen system, a cherished pillar of European unity.
Updated Date: Oct 26, 2016 08:05 AM