After several attacks, EU leaders want more control of the external borders. French President Macron calls for the abuse of the right to asylum to be tackled.
Despite the threat of terrorism, borders within Europe must remain as open as possible – instead, entry and exit must be more strictly controlled at the external borders. “We don’t have to adapt to more controls,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said after a video conference with European counterparts, French President Emmanuel Macron and EU leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel. Rather, it is about “we must do more on the side of the external borders”.
Following the bloody attacks in Paris, Nice, Vienna and Dresden, Tuesday’s talks should work towards a joint initiative against Islamic terror. Merkel spoke of attacks “on our free society, the way we live”.
Macron: fight against abuse of asylum rights
Almost all participants stressed the need to reform the Schengen area, which is effectively free of control and to which 26 European countries belong. However, French President Emmanuel Macron pointed to a possible split in the largely control-free Schengen area in Europe. “If certain countries are not ready to reform these rules, they may have to take other paths,” Macron said. He emphasized that he wanted to keep internal borders open. A precondition for this, however, is that the EU’s external borders are better protected.
Macron also called for combating abuse of the asylum law: “It’s not about restricting or repealing the asylum law, but it must be properly applied.” Commissioner von der Leyen said: “Our European Union is a unique area of freedom. But we can only defend this freedom if there is security.”
Dutch Prime Minister: “Concerned about Schengen”
Merkel made it clear that it was not about new border controls. On the contrary, even without checks, there are very good police options to act in the border area, for example with the manhunt. It cannot be that the entire Schengen area was a control-free area. There have been control rules between Germany and Austria for some time, and such rules could also be introduced temporarily. It is very important to protect the external borders.
But Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also said: “To be honest, I am concerned about Schengen.” A Europe without controls can only be maintained if there are more controls at its external borders. It is crucial to know who is entering and leaving.
Von der Leyen announces Schengen reform
In this context, von der Leyen announced that her authority would present a strategy for a corresponding Schengen reform in May 2021. At the same time, she stressed that action must be taken before potential criminals are radicalized. This is the “best weapon” against extremism. At the end of the month, your agency will present an integration action plan.
Merkel and the other top politicians stressed that the fight against the hatred being spread over the internet must be stepped up. Negotiations between EU Member States and the European Parliament should be concluded before the end of this year, stipulating that terrorist content will be quickly removed from the Internet. In addition, the European Commission wants to propose a legislative package in early December that will make internet platforms more responsible for illegal or harmful content, von der Leyen said. The following applies: the larger the platform, the more responsibility.
Multiple terrorist attacks in a few weeks
Calls for more cooperation in Europe had become loud after several attacks. In Dresden, on October 4, a Syrian classified as dangerous had fatally injured one man and seriously injured another with a knife. Also in October, a teacher was beheaded in Paris by a suspected Islamist and three people were murdered by another violent criminal in a church in Nice. A week ago, a supporter of the Islamic State terrorist organization in Vienna shot dead four people and injured more than 20 others.
Austrian Chancellor Kurz on Tuesday emphasized tougher measures against radical Islamists who had returned from abroad. Thousands of “foreign terrorist fighters” in Europe fought in Syria or Iraq or tried to leave. The police need more powers to deal with this. “Many of them are in prison, some have already been released and the sad truth is that the majority of those in prison will be released in the coming years,” Kurz said.
“These are ticking time bombs and if we want to protect all of our freedom, then we have to limit the freedom of these people.” After the attack in Vienna, however, the Austrian security authorities had already admitted that they had made mistakes in assessing the danger of the later attacker.
The fight against terrorism will also be promoted at the video conference of the EU’s interior ministers next Friday and at the EU summit in December.