Europe must rethink Schengen border areas, Macron says


The French president speaks to police officers during a visit to the Le Perthus border crossing (Guillaume Horcajuelo/Pool via REUTERS)
The French president speaks to police officers during a visit to the Le Perthus border crossing (Guillaume Horcajuelo/Pool via REUTERS)

Emmanuel Macron has called for a “deep overhaul” of Europe’s open-border Schengen area, including the creation of a “proper border force” to tighten control of the zone’s external frontiers.

The French president said the changes were needed to prevent clandestine immigration and clamp down on traffickers, who he claimed increasingly have links to terrorism. It is unclear what his evidence for the claim was.

His comments come in the wake of two suspected Islamist terror attacks, in Nice and Vienna, in which the alleged perpetrators had recently travelled freely between member states.

During a visit to the French-Spanish border on Thursday, Mr Macron announced that he would present his proposals to other EU leaders at a summit in December, and would seek to cement them during France’s presidency of the Council of the EU in 2022.

While the president said his actions were due to “the intensification of the threat” of terror, a junior minister told Reuters the proposals Mr Macron will suggest would be based on principals he previously set out in a letter to citizens ahead of the 2019 European elections.

In that letter, Mr Macron wrote that Europe needed a common border force and a single asylum office, strict border control obligations and for each member state to supply intelligence under the authority of a European Council for Internal Security.

“I am in favour of a deep overhaul of Schengen to re-think its organisation and to strengthen our common border security with a proper border force,” Mr Macron said on Thursday.

The Schengen zone consists of 22 of the 27 EU member states, as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, between which there are no border controls. Britain and Ireland are not part of it.

Accompanied by interior minister Gerald Darmanin and European affairs minister Clement Beaune, Mr Macron also announced that he would be doubling the number of police at France’s borders.

France's border police chief told the president there had been an increase in attempted crossings of the Franco-Spanish frontier after it reopened in June with the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.

Meanwhile, the number of people refused entry to the EU reached a record high in 2019, with more than 717,000 people turned away. 

According to Eurostat data, just over 627,000 non-EU citizens were found to be illegally present in the bloc of 446 million people, up 10 per cent from the previous year.

It is not clear what evidence Mr Macron has for his claim that people traffickers increasingly have links to terrorist groups, however research by the Institute for the Study of War in 2017 found no evidence that Isis was directly targeting asylum-seekers for radicalisation.

The French president said the recent spate of attacks in France and Austria were a warning to Europe that “the terrorist risk is everywhere”.

His comments come as he reportedly seeks to calm the wave of anti-French sentiment provoked by his assertion that Islam is “a religion that is in crisis all over the world today”.

Speaking in the wake of the murder of teacher Samuel Paty and a terror attack in Nice, Mr Macron laid out measures to tackle what he described as a subterranean “parallel society” in France, thriving in some neighbourhoods where Islamists take control of the local population to influence and indoctrinate. 

He stressed that stigmatising French Muslims would be falling into a “trap” laid by radicals, blaming French governments for organising the “ghettoisation” of a population that could easily fall prey to radical preaching. He said that secularism is the “cement” of France.

His comments drew tens of thousands to the streets in protest and saw him condemned by some Arab leaders, notably Turkey’s president Tayyip Recep Erdogan, as effigies of him burned and newspapers portrayed him as the devil.

However, United Arab Emirates foreign minister Anwar Gargash said Mr Macron’s words had been “deliberately taken out of context”, telling Die Weld: “[Muslims] have to listen carefully to what Macron said in his speech. He doesn’t want to ghettoise Muslims in the west, and he is totally right.”



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