Lorne Cook, Associated Press, December 14, 2021
The European Union on Tuesday launched a major revamp of the rules governing the movement of people and goods into and around Europe as coronavirus restrictions and fears over a “hybrid attack” from Belarus using migrants are placing increasing strains on its passport-free travel area.
The Schengen area comprises 26 countries — including non-EU nations Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. The removal of border checks between them has been a boon for business, trade and travel.
“The refugee crisis of 2015, the spate of terrorists attacks on European soil and the global COVID-19 pandemic have all put the Schengen area under strain,” European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said.
“This is a balanced, necessary step. It’s not the end of the story but it’s enough to keep Schengen intact,” Schinas told reporters in Strasbourg, France, as he unveiled the proposals, which must be endorsed by EU countries and lawmakers to take effect.
To tighten the EU’s outside borders in emergencies, the bloc’s executive branch, the European Commission, is proposing to temporarily ease asylum norms when an outside country pushes migrants toward Europe or actively encourages them to come, as Belarus is accused of doing.
The number of border crossings where people register for asylum could be reduced. The registration of applications could be delayed for four weeks, instead of 10 days currently. People could be held in temporary shelters at the border for up to 16 weeks while their applications are processed.
Fast-track deportations would be permitted for those not allowed in.