Germany is pushing for the European Commission to put forward a proposal allowing the European agency tasked with coordinating border agencies, Frontex, to take over when a member is not effectively defending the European Union’s external borders. Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said today that Germany and France will both seek the creation of a new, separate European border and coast guard system.
These new proposals are being floated publicly just as European interior ministers are meeting today to discuss not only enhanced security measures and external border patrols, including a Passenger Name Records system for air passengers, but also a proposal to suspend some Schengen rules for up to two years, allowing countries to impose temporary internal border within the current free movement zone.
The proposals on the table highlight two contradictory movements in Europe. On the one hand, countries are pushing to regain the ability to impose border controls, allowing each sovereign state the legal option of conducting checks along their borders and controlling who is allowed inside their territory. On the other hand, the German proposal for a strengthened Frontex and potential European border and coast guard system, if approved, would signify a reduction in the sovereign powers of countries, such as Greece, Italy and Hungary, located along the Schengen zone’s external borders.
While some European governments are pushing to have more leeway in policing their own borders, some of those same governments are also seeking more power to police the borders of other countries. From the point of view of German decision-makers, this is not a contradiction: Their goal is to boost Europe’s external borders while allowing themselves the legal possibility to extend controls along their own borders. Some countries along Europe’s external borders may be happy to receive extra assistance from a new European border system, but others — like Hungary and Greece — could see this move as an assault on their sovereignty, deepening already existing divisions within the bloc.