More transparency needed – an EU citizen can’t currently know when and where Schengen is suspended

On Thursday 29th October I am taking the train from Berlin to Vienna, via Nürnberg. This means I will cross the German – Austrian border at Passau. But what is the status of that border at the moment? Is Schengen suspended there, or not?

This is a valid question to ask as on 13th September Germany closed its border to Austria – there were news stories about it. The letter Germany sent to the Council of the European Union about this was tweeted by Bruno Waterfield here. The German Interior Ministry put out a news story about the suspension here (in German).

On the DG Home Affairs website of the Commission I can find three news stories relating to current(-ish) Schengen suspensions – by Germany (13 Sept), Austria (15 Sept) and Slovenia (17 Sept). These stories are not simple to find – searching the DG’s news page for “Schengen” doesn’t locate them, but they’re in the sidebar of the Schengen page. However – most importantly – none of these news stories states when the suspensions end.

The European Commission has today released an opinion about whether the controls put in place by these three countries were legal – news story here, and PDF of the opinion here.

The Commission view is that the Schengen Borders Code – especially Articles 23 to 27 that relate to the procedure by which Member States can suspend Schengen – were respected by the three countries, yet the Commission asked for some additional clarification. There are some interesting nuggets in the opinion, like this about Germany on Page 3:

On 9 October, the German authorities communicated a second prolongation for further 20 days, as of 13 October, on similar grounds as the previous ones. At the same time the German authorities indicated their intention to continue – depending on the further development of the situations, any subsequent prolongation of the reintroduced border controls on the basis of Art 23 and 24 Schengen Borders Code.

and this about Austria on Page 5:

On 25 September the Austrian authorities informed of the prolongation of this measure in line with Article 25(3) with effect as of 26 September 2015 for another 20 days

In summary, the state of Schengen suspensions is as follows, deduced from the Opinion:

  • Germany’s Schengen suspension lasts until 2nd November, and may be extended further (but a further notification to the Commission and Member States would be necessary)
  • Austria’s Schengen suspension ended on 16th October UPDATED – see note below!
  • Slovenia’s Schengen suspension lasts until 16th November (Slovenia concerns me less – I am not actually travelling there)

The issue however with all of this is that the Opinion is not drafted in a way so as to be exhaustive, and the news stories about these Schengen suspensions – both on the BMI’s website and the DG HOME’s – do not even make any mention of the extensions that were requested by all three countries. I can only conclude when Schengen is, and is not, in force by adding up numbers of days from a Commission Opinion, and even this information was released weeks after the suspensions were requested by the individual countries. The Opinion also makes no reference whatsoever to any investigations the Commission might be making to check what Member States say actually corresponds with actions taken on the ground.

My problem here is not actually about the rules of Schengen suspensions – I don’t like those, but that’s a subject for another time. However what is really important, and what this case so clearly demonstrates, is that it is next to impossible, as a citizen of the EU who wants to move freely within the Schengen zone, to know where and for how long border controls will be reimposed. It’s time for one hell of a lot more transparency in the functioning of this system!

[Update – 23.10.2015, 2000]
I’ve been trying to use Twitter to work out what’s going on here, and got this from Tim McPhie (Press Officer for Better Regulation, Interinstitutional Affairs, Rule of Law, Charter of Fundamental Rights):

So what is in Article 42? Here’s the relevant bit:

The Austrian decisions to prolong the reintroduction of controls at internal borders by each time 20 days were necessary in light of the continuing threat to public policy and internal security by the continuing arrival of a very large number of persons.

This then prompted me to then re-read Article 20 of the Opinion (as opposed to Article 16 that I had quoted above), and that then explains the furter actions taken by Austria, extending the Schengen suspension to 6th November.

So I *think* all three Schengen suspensions are still in force, which is contradictory to my earlier understanding. The original position still stands though – this stuff is as clear as mud. We need a simple, clear, regularly updated list of what Schengen suspensions are in force, for how long, and precisely where. Why is that so hard?

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  1. Jon

    @Shailesh – oddly NO, there were no checks! But friends who flew the same route to the same every were checked at the airport! Strikes me as very odd.

  2. Shailesh

    How was your trip from Berlin to Vienna? Were your passports checked? Thanks