The European Commission’s recommendation that five members of the Schengen area, including Germany, extend border controls by three months until May doesn't go far enough for Berlin.
The German government on Thursday said it wants to extend border checks possibly until year-end in the wake of both the migrant crisis and due to the risk of terror attacks.
The European Union's executive body said Wednesday that Austria, Germany, Denmark and Sweden and non-member Norway should be allowed to continue border controls as significant numbers of people continue to seek asylum.
All five countries are part of the Schengen area that allows free travel between member states and do not usually carry out such controls at their borders.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said the government is considering extending controls at the German-Austrian border “beyond mid-2017” or possibly until the end of the year, according to reports in German daily newspapers belonging to the Funke publishing house.
The extension of border checks is necessary “in view of the overall situation,” Mr. de Maizière was quoted as saying, answering a written question from Green Party lawmakers at Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag. He added that Germany’s federal police had also observed “persistently high migratory pressure on Europe” and between countries in the Schengen area.
The border between Germany and Austria is currently being patrolled by 700 police officers at 70 border crossings along the 860-kilometer long border.
In Germany, we have a special security situation just after the attack. Thomas de Maizière, Germany's Interior Minister
In the Bavarian district of Rosenheim alone, the police have been reporting 1,200 to 1,400 cases of attempted illegal immigration each month, according to the regional daily Westfälische Rundschau, part of the Funke group. Of the people seeking to enter the country, 30 to 50 percent are turned away by the authorities.
The fear of further terror attacks, one month after an IS supporter drove a truck into a crowd at a Berlin Christmas market, is another reason why Berlin is in no hurry to reopen the borders.
“In Germany, we have a special security situation just after the attack,” Mr. de Maizière told publicly-owned broadcaster ARD on Thursday after meeting his European counterparts in Malta. He added that a different legal framework might be required to extend border controls.
In November 2016, the European Commission agreed to extend border controls until mid-February but Berlin lobbied for a longer time frame. On Thursday, the E.U. executive body complied with Germany’s demand but this recommendation still has to be approved by the 28 member states.
Germany will not only extend controls at the borders but also make them tighter; police will automatically record all license plates and check the data against their files. The Bundestag is set to adopt a law allowing this in early March.
According to the Funke media report, Germany’s police are looking to purchase eight mobile license plate readers for a total of €800,000.
Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author: [email protected].