Remarks by Commissioner Johansson at the press conference on a stronger and more resilient Schengen area

Source: European Commission (EC) i, published on Thursday, June 3 2021.

This Schengen strategy is about the European Union being stronger facing out and being freer facing in.

The Schengen area is the biggest area in the world for free movement, 420 million people. It is also important to know that 40% of our territory is an internal border territory. 30% of our citizens live in an internal border region, and 1.7 million people go every day to work in another Schengen country. 3.5 million people travel across internal Schengen borders every day. So this is a lot of achievements here that we really need to be very proud of.

But, as everybody knows, the Schengen area of freedom and security and justice has also faced severe challenges the latest years. We saw in 2015 the migration crisis, and some Member States introduced internal border checks that they still have in place. We have seen now the pandemic, where several Member States introduced internal border checks.

I sometimes hear that we need to go back to a full functioning Schengen, but I should say that we have to go forward to a full functioning Schengen area. We are facing challenges, we will always face challenges, and new ones will come. Some of them we can predict; other ones we cannot predict. Terrorism will not end, we will have new pandemics probably, and we will have other challenges coming. What we need is to prepare the governance of the whole Schengen area to be able to face and address these challenges. To secure our citizens while also having the free movement in place inside the Schengen area. That is why, we have these three pillars in the strategy.

First is the better management of our external borders. This is crucial. We already have taken a lot of decisions that now need to be implemented. First, of course, was personnel: the European Border and Coast Guard that should have 10,000 standing corps to help at vulnerable areas at our external borders. But maybe even more important are the new IT systems. We have several new systems in place that have to be implemented, and operability between the systems have to be implemented in the coming years. We have a tight timetable to follow for that and it is crucial now that all Member States really deliver all this, and in time, because we are not stronger than our weakest link at our external borders. If we have weaknesses at some part of our external border, that will have an impact on all Schengen countries.

Second, we also need to strengthen the security inside the Schengen area. Internal border checks should be a measure of last resort. But we have to see that even if we have stronger protection at our external borders, we will still have a lot of threats inside Schengen. We know that organised criminal groups are working cross-border; we know that terrorists cross borders inside the Schengen area. That is why we need to strengthen police cooperation. We are going to present later this year an EU Police cooperation code that sets a standard for the swift cooperation between police forces in different Member States. We will also put forward new proposals when it comes to advance passenger information and when it comes to the sharing of information between law enforcement in different Member States. These are important parts of securing our citizens in an area of free movement of 420 million people.

The last thing I would like to mention is governance. What we have realised, and many Member States have realised, is that we have been lacking a bit of political governance of the Schengen area. That is why this Commission organised a Schengen Forum. We had the first meeting in November last year, we had the second Schengen Forum last month and this has been an opportunity for Ministers, European Parliament and the Commission to come together and discuss the political governance of the Schengen area.

Now we propose that this Schengen Forum be permanent and takes place annually. To feed into that Schengen Forum, we will also annually present a State of Schengen report that will deliver facts and figures on the strengths and weaknesses that we have in our Schengen area and also at our external borders. To be able to do that in a good way, we also now present, together with the Strategy, renewed legislation when it comes to the Scheval, the Schengen evaluation and monitoring mechanism. That is when my services, together with experts from Member States visit all the different countries in the Schengen area, on site to really look at what is working well and if there are any shortcomings. What we propose now is to have swifter processes, make sure that severe deficiencies will be addressed immediately, and we also propose that unannounced visits will be really unannounced and not announced 24 hours in advance as is with the current legislation.

Last but not least, we will also set up a Schengen Scoreboard to make sure that we can follow the development in all the Schengen countries. The last thing I would like to say is that all Member States of the European Union have an obligation to enter Schengen when they fulfil the criteria. We now have three Member States that fulfil the criteria and are expecting to be able to enter Schengen. I hope that the Council will take the decision soon so that Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia will be full members of the Schengen area. Thank you.