Migration and free movement of people in the EU raised its ugly head in the European Parliament this week. MEPs are furious that EU governments want to deprive the Parliament of its right to legislate on arrangements for evaluating the functioning of the Schengen visa-free travel agreement. It’s shaping up to be a rare battle between the EuroParl and the Council of Ministers.
The European Council under Denmark, who currently holds the six month rotating presidency, has engendered wrath from across the political spectrum. Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Socialist and Democrat Group in the European Parliament, made our position clear: “You [the Council] have opened the door to populism and we will stand against you. Because there are so many refugees coming from Tunisia, should we shut down borders?” he asked, adding that “this is the wrong answer to the Arab Spring”. Mr Swoboda also warned: “we will use all political and legal tools at our disposal to stop this.”
MEPs are, in fact, considering bringing a case to the European Court of Justice.
Though the UK is not party to Schengen, migration and movement of people could potentially affect us, so we should follow this issue closely.
In the debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week, speakers from most political groups strongly criticised the Danish Presidency.
MEPs asked the Danish justice minister Morten Bødskov to come to Parliament to explain why EU justice and home affairs ministers had decided on 7 June to change the legal basis of the rules governing the evaluation of Schengen from Article 77 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU to Article 70. This change effectively meant that the European Parliament no longer has any legislative powers over this draft law. The EU justice ministers merely promised to inform Parliament of the member states’ decisions.
Under the new arrangement the European Commission would also be prevented from exercising their supervisory role on behalf of citizens. Member states would be free to ignore any concerns that they put forward.
“This is a legal decision based on contents, not on politics,” said Danish justice minister Morten Bødskov. He called on MEPs to “look at this in a broader perspective”, adding that “with this compromise we are advocating a model based on more EU”.
On the other hand the Swedish Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malstrom said, “I’m convinced that the last word is not said on this, expressing her “clear disappointment” at the Council decision. She added that “We will defend security, but also freedom of movement.”
This issue could run for a while longer. It’s a very real power struggle between the governments of the EU member states and the European Parliament. Although I suspect there will ultimately be no clear winner, the battle is an important one both on the principle of free movement and the powers of the EU institutions.