BRUSSELS (Reuters) – France wants the EU to tighten rules on passport checks on EU citizens entering and leaving the Schengen free-travel zone in the wake of the attacks in Paris, to make it harder for European jihadists to return from Syria unnoticed.
The proposal, seen by Reuters on Thursday, is among several to be presented by France to a crisis meeting of EU interior ministers on Friday. It reflects impatience with progress since EU leaders agreed in February after the attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo that the passports of all EU travelers routinely be checked against criminal and security databases.
At that time, leaders resisted French calls for a change to the rules of the 26-nation Schengen zone but called for existing rules to be applied to ensure “systematic” checks.
France is again urging a “revision” of the rules of an area that has come under huge strain this year, as governments have reimposed a variety of national frontier controls in response to the arrival of a million migrants across their shared Mediterranean border as well as militant attacks.
“It is necessary, in particular to address the security issues which the Paris attacks have again highlighted, that we adopt effective, secure and urgent measures to better control our external borders,” the French document said.
In common with a package of measures being prepared by the EU executive commission, France will also call for the rapid adoption of an EU database of airline passengers – long stalled in the European Parliament due to privacy concerns – and much tighter gun control across the bloc.
Some of the French proposals go further than those now under discussion, however, including that passenger data – known as PNR – be collected for flights within the EU as well as flights between the EU and third countries as is currently proposed.
Paris wants an EU-wide tagging and tracking system for guns that would also apply to the likes of starting pistols, stricter control of Internet sales of weapons and a ban on Internet plans for making guns on 3-D printers. It also wants more cooperation from West Balkan states, the source of many illegal guns in the EU.
France’s losses at the hands of French and Belgian Islamic State fighters returned from Syria give its calls added weight, following the deaths of 129 people in Paris on Friday.
At present, border guards often make only visual checks on EU passports when EU citizens enter or leave the 26-nation Schengen Area, which includes most of the European Union.
Typically, EU passports are only run through databases of wanted criminals or counter-terrorism agencies’ watchlists when guards have specific suspicions – although this year France imposed records checks on all EU travelers arriving from Turkey due to fears of jihadists returning from Syria.
France is a vocal critic of the failure by Greece and Italy to check and document hundreds of thousands of refugees and others arriving across the Mediterranean, many of whom subsequently moved across the Schengen zone’s open borders, provoking a round of nationalist reactions that have jeopardized the system.
EU officials and European diplomats played down a suggestion on Wednesday from Dutch politicians that the Netherlands could be part of a plan for a smaller zone of passport-free movement, including Germany and other Benelux states, and that controls might be stepped up for people arriving from further afield.
Such discussions, however, reflect growing concern that the migration and security problems are undermining the free movement that many see as one of the Union’s key achievements.