The idea of EU co-operation is that there should be no borders between the member states. The external boundaries must be all the harder. That ambition was put to the test when about one million migrants arrived in Europe in the autumn of 2015.
In 1995, a handful of impatient EU countries removed border controls from each other after first coordinating visa issues and police cooperation. The agreement that formed the basis for this cooperation was concluded in the small town of Schengen in Luxembourg, which thus gave the name to border cooperation. Several countries joined and in 1999 Schengen cooperation was incorporated into the EU. The United Kingdom and Ireland, however, chose to stand outside and retain their border controls with the continent.
Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania, which are not yet considered ready to participate, are also excluded from the cooperation. On the other hand, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein are participating, all of which have agreed on access to the internal market even though they are not EU members.
The Schengen cooperation includes a common database that contains information on all countries’ searches for either persons or objects such as stolen weapons or cars. All police officers within Schengen as well as all border guards at external border crossings have access to the database.
Each member state decides for itself how much immigration it wants. However, most EU countries now only accept highly educated workers or researchers.
However, refugees fall under the UN Refugee Convention, which states that all politically persecuted people have the right to asylum and must therefore be received in all EU countries. Since 2005, asylum issues have been common within the EU, decided by a qualified majority and with the European Parliament as co-decision.
Standing for European Union defined on abbreviationfinder, the EU has common rules for how asylum reception should take place, for asylum seekers’ rights such as a roof over their heads, medical care and schooling for the children while the application is being processed, and the right to appeal a refusal.
The EU has also agreed that the first member state to which a refugee arrives should examine the application for asylum (Dublin Regulation). A refugee who continues to another EU country can thus be sent back to the first country.
In the 2010’s, the system began to crack when EU rules on carrier liability made it impossible for refugees to fly or take trains (the companies were required to ensure that all passengers had visas and send back those who did not.) Spain, then Italy and Greece, which received growing flows of refugees via shaky boats across the Mediterranean. In the summer of 2015, the system broke down when the war in Syria caused the number of refugees to increase dramatically. Many refused to stay in Greece and began migrating north, without papers or permits.
In September 2015, the EU countries made a decision to distribute the asylum seekers a little more evenly between the recipient countries. The refugee quota allocated to a member state took into account, among other things, the country’s size, gross domestic product (GDP), unemployment figures and how many migrants the country had previously received.
However, some Eastern European countries refused to accept the refugees. Other countries promised in theory to help but did little in practice. At the same time, six countries temporarily reintroduced their border controls, starting in Austria and Germany and further north to Denmark, Sweden and Finland. In the autumn of 2018, these temporary inspections were extended once again.
A new proposal has been discussed since 2017 for an automatic distribution of refugees when a country receives abnormally large numbers of asylum applications but no agreement has been reached.
On the other hand, EU countries could agree to tighten external border controls. Frontex, which has been used since the 2000’s to monitor difficult border crossings and hunt down human traffickers, was transformed into the EU’s border and coast guard with expanded powers. Stricter rules for border control were introduced, as were controls by incoming EU citizens.
To slow down the flow of migrants, EU leaders in the spring of 2016 negotiated an agreement with Turkey to stop the crossing of the Aegean Sea. In exchange, the EU promised to contribute financially to the reception of refugees in Turkey. The EU then began work on trying to conclude agreements with foreign countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Ethiopia and Libya to stop the flow of refugees. The EU has promised to contribute aid, growth projects and educational initiatives with the aim of tackling the reasons why people want to leave their home country.