Border checks between EU states could return

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European Union countries could see border checks with their neighbours restored in the future if they persistently fail to protect the EU's external frontier, legislative proposals by the EU executive showed on Friday.

Countries within the passport-free Schengen zone that do not conduct adequate external border controls can be subject to punitive measures. The plans unveiled by the European Commission are intended to address mounting concern in parts of Europe over illegal immigration, notably from North Africa.

Curb unrestricted travel Citizens of all of the 27 EU states are generally allowed to travel freely throughout the bloc. The Schengen zone includes most of the EU countries but not the UK, Ireland, Romania or Bulgaria, as well as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.

Several EU governments have lobbied to make it easier to curb unrestricted travel in Europe and reinstate former internal frontiers. The plan proposes taking away decision-making from national governments and giving more say over travel curbs to the executive and EU states as a group, an idea already rejected by France, Germany and Spain.

Arab spring refugees Debates across Europe over immigration and border controls intensified this year when popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and a civil war in Libya fanned concerns hundreds of thousands of illegal workers could seek refuge and jobs in Europe.

No more than 30,000 ended up reaching European shores, mostly Italy's, but concerns that borderless travel facilitates illegal immigration remained. Critics point to Greece in particular, largely because of persistent surveillance problems on its border with Turkey.

Last resort The Commission said that under its proposals, EU states could temporarily reintroduce border checks as a last resort, if a country repeatedly failed to improve controls. It stressed that this measure would only be taken after technical and financial help had first been given to that country to improve the border controls.

Other proposals allow a state to reintroduce border controls for several days in unforeseen circumstances, such as terrorist attacks. After that, a government would need approval from the Commission and other governments to continue controls.

Countries that want to tighten border controls ahead of expected events such as the soccer World Cup would have to seek prior permission.

© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

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