A new debate within the European Union (EU) centers on the Schengen agreement that allows passport-free travel throughout the 26 participating nations. EU interior ministers have embarked on a radical revision of the Schengen system, hoping to restore border controls and eliminate passport-free travel across the border-free regime.
Championed by Italy and France, the debate stems from the recent feud over migrants from North Africa.
Such a policy shift would reverse decades of free travel. Not all governments, however, are onboard: only 15 of the 22 EU member states who have signed the Schengen agreement support the proposal.
One of the most outspoken opponents to the proposed change is German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, who recently declared, ‘Under no circumstances will we accept any measure that will limit in any way the freedom of movement achieved under Schengen.'
Just hours before the meeting, Denmark, which has the strictest immigration restrictions in the EU, announced that it would reinstate controls at its borders with Germany and Sweden. This action prompted calls in the European Parliament to kick Denmark out of Schengen, though the Danish government asserted that the checks would not extend to passport controls, thus staying in compliance with the agreement. Denmark's decision will be scrutinized for its legality by the European Commission in the coming weeks.
Some have argued that the proposed revisions would be a step back for the progress made during 60 years of integration.
The next step is for the proposal to go to the EU prime ministers and presidents, who will likely discuss it at the summit slated for next month. The proposal would then need to pass in the European Parliament, where there will likely be strong resistance.