Germany boosts checks on part of French border

German authorities have taken the step of boosting controls on part of its border with France, it was announced on Wednesday. The French government has come under pressure to make a similar move.

Germany boosts checks on part of French border
German police step up border controls along frontier with France. Photo: AFP

Germany is boosting passport controls on part of its border with France, a police spokesman said on Wednesday, as the
country seeks to slow a record influx of migrants.

The reinforced controls will be implemented along the border with Alsace, a police spokesman told AFP, in response the refugee crisis.

The move comes days after Germany restored controls along its border with Austria after the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees had pushed authorities to the limit and led the mayor of Munich to say the city was at its “limit”.

While a similar move is not expected on the border with France due to the low numbers of refugees who cross the frontier, German authorities have nevertheless decided to increase their presence.

“In Baden-Wuerttemberg, we have stepped up controls, we are carrying out border checks as the situation requires,” said a federal police spokesman for the southwestern state.

“We are flexible regarding places and times as we carry out border checks.”

The spokesman added that the majority of the 1,900-strong federal police force in the state had been mobilised for the controls, but could not give a specific number.

In recent days the French government has come under pressure to follow the lead of Germany and bring back its borders, especially along its southern frontier with Italy, where hundreds of migrants and refugees enter the country.

While the government has dismissed such a move, the reality is that French police have been sending back hundreds of foreigners to Italy, who are caught without the required legal papers to stay in France.

François Gemenne, specialist on migration from Sciences-Po's Centre of International Research told The Local he wouldn't be surprised if the Socialist government buckled, but that it would undoubtedly be the wrong thing to do.

“I can see France bringing back border controls but it would be the stupidest thing to do,” he said. 

“It would be shooting yourself in the foot. The reason why people want borders closed and the end of Schengen has nothing to do with the reality of the refugee crisis in France, but the way Schengen rules are perceived,” he said.

“It would only be to appease public opinion and let the public believe that they won’t be invaded by a huge wave of migrants heading their way,” Gemenne added. “It’s just symbolic.”

“It would clearly not solve the problem. The refugees are in Europe and they will continue to come, you can’t just close the door and tell your neighbour to take care of them.”



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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.