France to extend internal EU border checks over security fears

France said Wednesday it has decided to extend border checks with countries in Europe's Schengen passport-free zone until the end of October because of the persistent threat of terrorism.

France to extend internal EU border checks over security fears
Photo: AFP

France introduced border controls after the Islamic State group attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on November 13, 2015 and has renewed them
every six months since then amid new attacks.

“Considering the number of recent and thwarted attacks, particularly the one in Trebes, that have hit French territory, the government has decided a
new extension,” the French interior ministry said.

Moroccan-born Frenchman Radouane Lakdim, during a rampage in Carcassonne and Trebes on March 23, killed four people before he was shot dead by police.

A European Commission spokesman confirmed “we received notification from France this week” to extend controls for six months beyond the April 30 expiry date.

Unlike temporary checks to curb migration in the Schengen zone, those linked to security do not require a formal green light from the Commission,
the 28-nation EU executive.

A total of 26 European countries, including 22 European Union member states, make up the Schengen zone where no passport is required when crossing borders.

In addition to France, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and non-EU Norway have also imposed border controls, but initially to curb uncontrolled

Those countries grappled with chaos as people fleeing war in Syria and other countries headed to wealthy northern EU countries after landing en masse in Greece in 2015.

However, migrant flows have declined sharply following EU cooperation deals with Turkey and Libya, the main gateways to Europe.

And the commission has since last year said it will no longer allow migration as a pretext to impose border checks because it says order has been

Those countries in November for the first time cited security concerns for renewing the checks even if they also warn of the need to control migration.

Permission for the five other countries to continue the checks expires on May 12 and most appear set to request a renewal.

In a letter to the European Commission, Austria's interior minister Herbert Kickl (FPÖ) asked for a six-month extension of controls on its borders with
Hungary and Slovenia.

Though illegal migrant arrivals have decreased, “the smugglers would see the loss of internal border checks as a false signal and intensify their
activities,” Kickl wrote, according to the Austrian press agency APA.

The commission said it has not yet received notification from Austria.

A diplomatic source said Poland, Hungary and Slovenia meanwhile have complained to EU member states that they are paying an economic price for the border checks, questioning the pretext of security.


Five border crossings between Geneva and France re-open

After shutting down many border points with France, Swiss authorities have re-opened some of them to avoid bottlenecks.

Five border crossings between Geneva and France re-open
A picture taken on April 9, 2020 near Dardagny shows concrete blocks closing the border between Switzerland and France amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. AFP

As part of sweeping measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Council closed most of its borders with France, Germany, Austria, and Italy on March 16th and decided to restore border controls with these countries.

The decision to restrict entry to Switzerland was made to protect the population and maintain the capacities of the Swiss public health system.

But starting on Monday April 20th, the authorities are re-opening the border crossing points between Geneva and France. They are Mategnin, Soral II, Monniaz and Veigy (coloured red below).

However, the openings of these cross points will be limited to weekdays from 6 am to 9 am when entering Switzerland, and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. when leaving the Swiss territory.

The border crossing at Landecy will also be open at the same times although only the green lane.

The new re-openings are an addition to the already existing customs that are open seven days a week, 24 hours a day: Ferney-Voltaire, Meyrin, Perly, Bardonnex, Moillesulaz, Thônex-Vallard, and Anières (coloured green).





Seven crossings have also been open on part-time basis, from 6 am to 8 pm every day: Chancy 1, Soral 1, Croix-de-Rozon, Veyrier, Fossard, Mon-Idée, and Monniaz.

For more information CLICK HERE.

Despite the increased number of border crossings between France and Geneva, however, entry is only still allowed for Swiss citizens, people with a residence permit, and people who have to travel to Switzerland for professional reasons, including those commuting to their jobs in Geneva on daily basis.

An estimated 85,000 French frontaliers are employed in Geneva. At the cantonal university hospital (HUG), for instance, 60 percent of personnel comes from France.

More than 67,800 Italians also work in Ticino, with about 4,000 employed in the canton’s healthcare sector. However, there are no new re-openings on that border at this point. 

In all, 130 border crossing points had been closed across Switzerland due to the pandemic. At those that remain open, checks are carried out to ensure that only eligible people enter Switzerland.

While the Federal Council announced the progressive lifting of current restrictions, it did not say when all Switzerland's external borders, including entry from non-EU and Schengen area countries will fully re-open. 

READ MORE: Switzerland sets date to begin easing coronavirus lockdown measures 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that the decision “is not only up to us”, implying that the final say belongs to the European Union.

While Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it belongs to the Schengen area — a bloc of 25 European countries, which abolished their internal borders for the free and unrestricted movement of people.

So far, the EU has not released the timeline for re-opening borders to non-essential travel from outside EU, calling for the current closures to stay in force until at least May 15th.