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On 6 February 2024, negotiators from the Belgian presidency of the Council of the EU and the European Parliament reached a preliminary agreement to amend the EU law governing the functioning of the Schengen area at both external and internal borders. Wego reports that these agreed modifications presently await approval and formal adoption by both institutions. The provisions stated aim to provide member states with improved tools to address challenges at the EU’s borders.


The Schengen border

The Schengen area encompasses 27 European countries and covers over 4 million square kilometers. It facilitates unrestricted travel for over 400 million people within the member countries and eliminates the need for border controls. Collaboration among the police, customs, and external border control authorities of Schengen countries enhances the area’s security.

The Schengen borders code, which will be updated following the aforementioned negotiation between the Belgian Presidency and the EU Parliament, serves as the legal framework that provides for no internal border controls and outlines regulations for checks at external Schengen borders. This code permits member states to reinstate controls at internal borders in exceptional situations that pose a threat to the overall functioning of the Schengen area.

Upcoming changes to the EU Borders Code

The proposed revisions clarify regulations regarding the reintroduction of border controls, emphasizing their use as a last resort. They also address scenarios where migrants are exploited and introduce the option to implement unified measures for coordinated travel restrictions during public health emergencies. 

Reintroduction of border controls

The updated Schengen borders code addresses the “instrumentalization” of migration, which is the exploitation of migration flows for political purposes. The new measures grant member states the authority to regulate border crossing points and hours. It also reintroduces internal border controls in response to serious threats, with immediate controls for unforeseeable situations lasting up to three months. For foreseeable threats, controls can be extended in tenures of six months, extendable up to two years.

Alternative measures for security

To limit the need for internal border controls, the updated code encourages alternative measures, ensuring security without impeding free movement.  

The updated code introduces alternative measures to address the illegal stay of third-country nationals in the Schengen area. A new procedure enables a member state to transfer apprehended illegal residents to the state from which they directly arrived. This process is conducted within a bilateral cooperation framework.

Health measures at external borders during health crises

The Council can now implement temporary travel restrictions at external borders during large-scale health emergencies. This may include testing, quarantine, and self-isolation. Certain groups, like those with free movement rights, are exempt.

This move comes in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the EU was only able to issue non-binding recommendations to member states.

Next step for implementation

This provisional agreement will now be sent to the Council representatives of each of the member states, who will then send their confirmations. It will then be formally adopted by both institutions, marking a crucial step in strengthening the Schengen area for seamless travel and improved security.