The European Commission has created a new strategy and action plan to reform the Schengen Area, according to an announcement published by the Commission.
The main area of focus of the strategy are summarized below:
Ensuring effective management of the Schengen Area’s external borders
This will be achieved by continuing to build a standing corps in the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) standing corps. In addition, the strategy includes improving and creating new data-sharing programs for law enforcement agencies. These data sharing technologies could make travel documents and Schengen Visa application documents digital as well.
Reinforcing the Schengen Area Internally
Fighting and preventing security threats is crucial to compensating for controls at the Schengen Area’s internal borders. New initiatives for this include an EU Police Cooperation Code, upgrading the ‘Prüm’ network that stores DNA, fingerprints, and vehicle registration, and finally expanding the use of passenger information on intra-Schengen flights.
Improving Preparedness and Governance
The commission is proposing that there are regular Schengen forums being held where Member States can address ongoing problems and concerns. The Commission is also proposing that they revise the Schengen Border Code in order to help quell internal threats to restore and maintain the right to freedom of movement. This is a safeguard provided as a solution to hopefully eliminate the need for internal border checks in the future to only be used as a last resort.
Enlarging the Schengen Area
The Commission is aiming to incorporate the EU Member States that are not included in the Schengen Area into Schengen. These Member States include Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, and Romania. The future of Schengen depends on its expansion, according to the Commission.
The Schengen Area has been heralded worldwide for more than 36 years for its status as a symbol of international cooperation and prosperity. Freedom of Movement has brought the bloc more wealth, prosperity, and clout on the international stage than any one Member State could have achieved on their own, and by default, has elevated all Member States.
“The freedom to move, live and work in different Member States is a freedom Europeans hold dearly. One of the greatest achievements of the EU, different crises and challenges have shown us that we cannot take Schengen for granted. Today, we are presenting a way forward that makes sure that Schengen can bear the test of time, one that will ensure the free flow of people, goods and services whatever the circumstances to rebuild our economies and for us to emerge stronger together,” said President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
The durability of the Schengen Area, however, has been tested due to Member States’ reactions to Covid-19, resulting in little-to-no cooperation, and Member States’ borders still being closed to each other’s citizens all the way into June 2021. This has resulted in unnecessary tensions between Member States, massive losses of wealth, and loss of status international for the whole of Schengen.
The Commission’s strategy, if adopted and actually followed by all Member States, could ensure that a 2020-like situation could never happen again and pave a clear path towards a meaningful and enduring recovery.