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European Parliament, Brussels 20 February 2018
Mobility is an inherent feature of our times, and will only increase in the future.
It is something we all have an interest in encouraging but it is also something we need to manage.
Schengen is one of the greatest and the most tangible achievements of European integration. The absence of internal border control constitutes the very essence of Schengen.
Over 400 million citizens and visitors can move freely. Goods and services can flow unhindered. But more than this,
beyond all the logical arguments and economic benefits, Schengen is the symbol of the European Union itself.
Thanks to Schengen, borders among the people of Europe ceased to exist: the very same borders that in the past gave birth to disputes and to wars.
As a young man, I have lived through the changes from borders to no more internal borders.
As a Commissioner and an EU citizen, I am therefore fully committed to preserving and strengthening Schengen, and to ensuring that it will continue to give us the same benefits in the future.
Schengen has been confronted with many challenges and threats.
The unprecedented migratory challenges, that the European Union has been facing for more than two years, has put the biggest strain on Schengen and its functioning since its conception.
Several Member States have introduced temporary internal border controls in an attempt to streamline the irregular migration flows and in reaction to the multiple terrorist attacks.
But temporary internal border controls cannot and should not become permanent ones!
Therefore, it is so important to agree on the right balance between ensuring mobility, on the one hand, whilst - guaranteeing security, on the other hand.
It is precisely to maintain this balance that we have proposed to amend the Schengen Borders Code.
One thing is very clear: Member States retain the main responsibility when it comes to security.
We have to remember that the temporary reintroduction of border controls is a legitimate measure available to the Member States confronted with a serious threat to internal security or public policy in exceptional cases.
However, it is not our intention to make the re-establishment of border controls at internal borders easier or permanent – on the contrary!
What we have proposed is to reinforce the procedural safeguards.
The reintroduction of border controls should only be a last resort measure, with the Council having the last word, and the views of the other Member States affected by such decisions must be duly taken into account.
Alternative solutions, such as police checks and cross-border cooperation, must always take priority.
I hope that we will reach a compromise quickly on this proposal which in our view constitutes a very careful balance of all our legitimate interests.
The new rules should then start to apply, allowing to prevent abuses and to make sure that everyone plays by the rules.
In this framework, I am looking forward to reading the report of Ms Fajon on the legislative amendment we proposed.
At the same time, as you all know: mobility inside our borders requires secured external borders.
This is exactly why, since 2015, we have made significant progress in our external border management.
As a first result, the numbers of migrants arriving via the Eastern and Central Mediterranean Sea have dropped considerably.
A key element has been the establishment of the European Border and Coast Guard, which is now fully operational.
Right now, the Agency is currently deploying almost 1,200 border guards to support Member States at the external borders, with an additional pool of 1,500 border guards on standby in case of emergency.
If we want to keep the absence of internal border controls, we need to keep on strengthening our external borders.
We also need to decide whether to keep the functioning of the European Border and Coast Guard as it is – OR to enhance it even more for the future and to create a genuine European Border Management.
This question is closely connected to the need for realism by our Member States, as regards the discussions on the EU Budget:
Whatever we decide about where we want to go in the future, we need to ensure the necessary funding from the Union's budget.
By 2020, the European Border and Coast Guard will have a staff of 1,000 and an annual budget of €335 million.
If we, for example, want to step up the operational capacity of the agency with a standing corps of European border guards of at least 3,000 EU staff, we will need €20–25 billion for the next 7 year period.
If we want to establish a full EU border management system, with 100,000 EU staff and a substantial EU equipment pool, comparable to the US or the Canadian system, this will require €150 billion over the next 7 years, or approximately 14% of the total EU budget and the equivalent of an annual EU budget.
the European Parliament's views on this will be very important, and I am sure, the rapporteur Mr Coelho will include a reflection on this point in his upcoming report.
With the creation of the European Border and Coast Guard, we have also strengthened its mandate on return – a topic which currently deserves all our attention.
I have said it already many times and I will say it again: The return of all those who do not have the right to remain in the EU is the only way to ensure credibility in the proper functioning of our migration and asylum systems.
It is also the only way to ensure continued support to the ever growing efforts to host those who are genuinely in need of protection.
But it's not just about return. We equally need to know who is crossing our borders, and be able to stop those who pose a threat, whilst ensuring mobility for bonafide travellers.
We have already made substantial progress. The new Entry-Exit system has been agreed and the next priority will be the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).
We also have proposals on the table to strengthen existing systems, such as the Schengen Information System and the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS).
Again, we need to reach swift agreements on these files. In a recent Eurobarometer survey, 92% of EU citizens agreed that Member States should share information within the European Union to better fight crime and terrorism.
We, therefore, aim to improve the exchange of information and to make our systems interoperable – to help us counter terrorism and serious crime and to secure our borders. Policemen, border guards, immigration officials and judicial authorities
need swift access to the data that is necessary for them to do their job.
This is why we have proposed to establish a single-search interface that could become a European search portal for all centralised systems.
As you can see, we have many building blocks in place to strengthen our external borders. But we need to make even further efforts to preserve Schengen, to make it even stronger and more resilient.
For this reason, and after discussions both with you and the Member States, we are going to present our concept for a European Integrated Border Management.
This will ensure that each of the almost 100 000 border and coast guards across the EU apply not only the same Schengen rules, but also work together, on the basis of the same spirit, mission and values, forming them into a true “European Border and Coast Guard”.
Finally, let me reiterate an important point: A stronger Schengen means also a unified Schengen.
We call on the Council to finally decide for Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen family – and of course Croatia, as soon as it's technically ready.
we should continue turning the crises of the last 3 years into opportunities for stronger and more effective cooperation.
We have to continue working together, on migration, security and borders management, in a spirit of solidarity, joint responsibility and trust.
In parallel, together we have to strengthen and preserve Schengen, as the core symbol of our Unity.
Europe can only exist if it is united. United: Politically, Economically, Socially and Geographically.
And Schengen is the guarantee of a geographically united Europe, ensuring the unity of our nations and of all European citizens.