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EU ministers to discuss longer-term Schengen suspension

By Gabriela Baczynska and Alastair Macdonald

EU interior ministers will discuss a proposal today Friday that could allow new border controls between European states for up to two years as an unprecedented migration crisis strains the Schengen free-travel zone.

The possibility is part of a discussion paper prepared by the Luxembourg government, which will chair Friday’s ministerial meeting, in response to concerns over the integrity of the 26-nation Schengen area under the pressure of hundreds of thousands of people trying to reach prosperous EU countries.

Most enter Europe through Greece. Some EU governments, notably in Eastern Europe, have suggested Greece could be suspended from the Schengen area if it fails to do more to control immigration.

A Luxembourg spokeswoman stressed the proposals were “not a threat to anyone or a threat to throw anyone out” but rather an overview of possible amendments to procedure and a suggestion of what to do when, come March, existing controls first reimposed by some states in September will expire.

Luxembourg, whose own minister Jean Asselborn spoke out on Wednesday against expelling Greece or paring back the Schengen area to a hard core of richer states, proposed four topics for debate, according to a document seen by Reuters.

First, improving communication among states before imposing temporary controls on their internal Schengen frontiers; second, securing external borders; third, improved checks to track unregistered migrants inside Schengen; and fourth, longer term internal border control.

The checks imposed by Germany and some other states on their Schengen borders in September are limited to six months. The Luxembourg paper suggests that, if migration problems persist, governments may use Article 26 of the Schengen rules, allowing up to four six-month periods of border control.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission, the executive which oversees implementation of the rules, told reporters: “This is not about expelling anyone. It concerns serious and persistent deficiencies at the external borders.”

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