EU Parliament Approves Schengen Borders Code Reform to Strengthen Free Movement

EU Parliament Approves Schengen Borders Code Reform to Strengthen Free Movement

The Schengen Area, which is a significant part of the European Union (EU), has been known for allowing over 400 million citizens to travel freely without restrictions.

However, recent issues like the COVID-19 pandemic and the misuse of migration have prompted the EU to reconsider the rules of the Schengen Borders Code.

In a landmark decision, the European Parliament has approved a thorough reform plan. This plan aims to strengthen the idea of free movement while also addressing new security challenges.

Strengthening free movement within the Schengen Area

One of the main goals of the reform is to make sure people can move freely within the Schengen Zone.

The new rules are strict about when countries can put up border controls again. They can only do it as a last resort and for clearly defined, limited periods.

Sylvie Guillaume, who led the talks for the European Parliament, highlighted the significance of this reform. She said they have protected the people’s free movement while responding to the issues that the Schengen Area has faced in the past decade.

The reform also sets clear rules for when and how countries can bring back internal border controls. This is to stop countries from blocking movement just for political reasons.

Harmonizing responses to public health emergencies

The COVID-19 pandemic showed that the Schengen Area had vulnerabilities, leading to demands for a unified plan for future health emergencies.

The updated Schengen Borders Code addresses this by bringing in harmonized rules for letting third-country nationals in during emergencies.

With these new rules, the European Commission can agree to put border controls back in place in several Schengen countries for up to six months during a public health crisis. 

This is meant to make sure the response is fair and reasonable, while still letting EU citizens and those who benefit from free movement travel freely.

Addressing the instrumentalization of migration

One of the most debated parts of the reform deals with how migration is used to put pressure on the EU.

The new rules let member states close or limit certain border crossings temporarily if this happens. 

This part of the reform has been criticized by human rights groups and civil society. They worry that it might lead to unfair treatment and illegal pushbacks of migrants. 

They argue that the reform could legitimize racial profiling and weaken the rights of migrants, including children.

Promoting police cooperation over border controls

To balance security needs with freedom of movement, the reform suggests enhanced cooperation between police in border regions instead of regular border checks during health crises.

This way, it tries to maintain the free flow of people while still addressing possible risks.

Navigating the new Schengen landscape

The updated Schengen Borders Code has far-reaching effects on travelers and immigrants who want to go to or live in the Schengen Area. 

Starting in mid-2025, when the ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) launches, visa-exempt travelers will need to get pre-travel authorization. These changes match the EU’s goal of making travel easier while improving security.

For short visits, the rules during health emergencies will be the same across Schengen countries.

However, the provisions about the instrumentalization of migration might mean more checks and possible delays for certain nationalities at border crossings.

Striking the right balance

The Schengen reform affects how EU countries handle immigration, especially for long-term residency and integration. 

While the new rules aim to keep EU citizens’ and legal residents’ rights safe, there are concerns about what might happen to undocumented migrants and their families.

Some parts of the reform allowing for temporary border closures and bilateral readmission agreements have started debates about migrants’ rights and the prevention of illegal pushbacks.

As member states put these changes into action, they need to find a balance between security and upholding basic human rights.

The way forward for Schengen’s free movement

The updates to the Schengen Borders Code are a significant move to make sure people can keep moving freely in the EU, while also addressing contemporary challenges. 

With public health emergencies, migration dynamics, and security risks, the reform tries to give a clear framework for responding to these problems while still respecting the rights of both citizens and migrants.