EU officials have responded to the Paris attacks by ordering immediate vetting of all EU nationals for potential terrorism or criminal connections.
It was announced on Friday that control at external European Union borders will be strengthened for all nationals, including those who benefit from the freedom of movement. All EU citizens entering or leaving the free-travel area, known as Schengen, will undergo “systematic” screening against pan-European databases.
Internal border checks can also be enhanced “at request.”
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French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told journalists in Brussels that the clampdown on borders would take instant effect on a temporary basis until the European commission came up with changes to the Schengen rules enshrining the new regime as mandatory and obligatory.
The Guardian reports:
Under current Schengen rules, this is impossible, with EU citizens subject to “minimum” identification procedures, which are generally cursory and perfunctory. Ministers are under intense pressure to tighten the system because all of the known Paris attackers were EU nationals, either French or Belgian, who found it relatively easy to travel back and forth to and within Europe without major problems even when they were registered as terrorism suspects in the Schengen or national databases. “Terrorists are crossing the borders of the European Union,” said Cazeneuve.
The ministers called for “a targeted revision of the Schengen borders code to provide for systematic controls of EU nationals, including the verification of biometric information, against relevant databases at external borders of the Schengen area, making full use of technical solutions in order not to hamper the fluidity of movement”.
Finalising the new borders regime could take months, however, and is likely to run into legislative infighting in Brussels. The European commission has to propose changes to the Schengen rules that would then need to be endorsed by national governments and the European parliament, where opposition and delays are likely. Previous attempts to tighten the borders regime, notably after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January, petered out.
The commission has not been keen to revise the rules, saying there is no need. The commissioner in charge, Dimitris Avramopoulos, told Friday’s meeting that the changes making thorough vetting of EU nationals mandatory could now be “explored”.
Cazeneuve was emphatic. “Strengthening of controls is indispensable. We’ve been saying this for months. This is why the commission has agreed to table systematic and obligatory checks on all entering the Schengen area, including those [EU citizens] who enjoy freedom of movement,” he said.